Self-Defense a masterclass in satirical filmmaking

It becomes clear less than five minutes into The Art of Self-Defense that it won’t be taking itself seriously at all.

It also becomes clear that they need your suspension of disbelief before you can truly enjoy the film’s comic brilliance.

This offbeat, dark comedy is possibly the best ‘silly’ comedy since Napoleon Dynamite, and the straight face those involved maintain while veering into the outlandish is a major part of the fun.

Jesse Eisenberg — Oscar-nominated for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and lambasted for his whiny portrayal of Lex Luthor in Batman Vs. Superman — is a perfect fit here.

His even-keeled demeanour and knack for deadpan sensibilities that served him perfectly in Zombieland allow for his best performance in nearly a decade.

As lonely, awkward Casey, we see his transformation as he joins a local dojo after being attacked on the street. The seriousness with which he takes his training is bordering on farcical, a reminder of the way some real-life Cross-Fit fanatics might handle themselves.

He is, put simply, hilarious as he finds himself in puzzling situations that lea to outlandish consequences at the hands of his sensei (Alessandro Nivola). Nivola, Imogen Poots and Eisenberg make for a great comedic trinity.

Writer-director Riley Stearns makes a leap into the big leagues with this deeply satisfying first picture, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in the arsenal.

4/5 Stars

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