The Art of Self Defense parents guide

The Art of Self Defense Parent Guide

A dark comedy which fails to land many of its jokes and features excessive sexual references.

Overall C-

Casey Davies, a timid and unfortunate accountant, decides to attend karate lessons after he is mugged by a gang of bikers. The mysterious Sensei he visits teaches him how to defend himself, but the costs might be different than Casey anticipated.

Release date July 12, 2019

Violence C
Sexual Content D
Profanity D
Substance Use C+

Why is The Art of Self Defense rated R? The MPAA rated The Art of Self Defense R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Run Time: 104 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Casey Davies (Jessie Eisenberg) is the stereotypical wimp. He’s a meek, awkward accountant with no friends, few hobbies, and even less self esteem. After he is mugged and brutally beaten on his way to pick up more dog food for his dachshund, Casey enrolls in a karate class so he’ll be able to defend himself in future. There he learns from Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) how to kick with his fists and punch with his feet, how to earn his own respect, and how to listen to heavy metal.

The Art of Self Defense is a strange movie. Dark comedies are typically niche films to start with, and this one steers aggressively into that small market. The comedy is delivered in an awkward deadpan style, which definitely plays to Jessie Eisenberg’s strengths, but does make the film less appealing to a broader audience. Eisenberg does a fine job portraying his fastidious and socially disjointed character and the rest of the cast are also excellent. Sadly, the comedy in the film seems unusually muted. There are clearly a lot of jokes, and while I could see the humor in most of them, there wasn’t enough there to get a real laugh. Comedy is highly personal, so maybe I’m the odd man out here, but it seemed as if the jokes were being deliberately undersold. Where another recent dark comedy, The Dead Don’t Die, steered hard into absurdity and millennial fatalism, The Art of Self Defense seems unwilling to take the last few steps to give its jokes the force they need to land properly.

For me, the highlight of the movie was its running commentary on the inherently ridiculous nature of the “masculine” behaviors society expects from men. Casey is told, for example, that his preference for “adult contemporary” music is effeminate, and that he should start listening to heavy metal. His dachshund is too small and weak; he should upgrade to a German shepherd. His interest in France makes him prone to surrendering; he should start learning Russian or German instead. The absurd push for the most masculine or aggressive version of his life forms the basis of a lot of the jokes in the film and highlights the ridiculousness of society’s conception of what a man should be.

While the violence and profanity are milder than I expected, there are a lot of sexual references that many audiences will find distasteful, including the repeated use of topless photos from “gentlemen’s magazines”. Even though they’re used jokingly, they do render the film unsuitable for family audiences.

While I’m not unhappy with this production overall, I feel like it missed an opportunity to be much funnier than it turned out to be. There are similar comedies which are more amusing and less offensive and which I’d rather watch. If only the film had taken the art of filmmaking as seriously as it had taken the art of self-defense, it might have pulled off some good hits. As is, the movie lacks the punch to succeed in a competitive market.

Directed by Riley Stearns. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Poots.. Running time: 104 minutes. Theatrical release July 12, 2019. Updated

Watch the trailer for The Art of Self Defense

The Art of Self Defense
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Art of Self Defense rated R? The Art of Self Defense is rated R by the MPAA for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.

Violence: A character is punched in the back of the head and then severely beaten. An individual is punched in the throat. A person sustains a compound fracture to his elbow. People are shown sparring in a karate class, resulting in one person getting a broken nose and another spitting out some teeth. An individual is punched in the stomach and hits his head on the concrete hard enough to cause bleeding. A dog is shown dead. An individual is shot in the leg. A person is beaten to death. An individual is hanged and his body incinerated. An individual is shot in the head. Someone is killed by a large dog.
Sexual Content: There are frequent mentions of sexual behavior. A man is implied to be masturbating in one scene. There are several images of topless women. There is a brief image of full frontal male nudity.
Profanity: There are five uses of the sexual expletive, and several uses of scatological references and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: An individual is shown drinking heavily to deal with trauma. A bag of white powder is implied to be cocaine but is never used or explicitly stated to be drugs.

Page last updated

The Art of Self Defense Parents' Guide

Casey is determined to become more “masculine”. What traits do you see as masculine? Why? How do societies determine masculine traits? Do you think the advice Casey gets is helpful or do you think it reinforces ideals associated with toxic masculinity?

Loved this movie? Try these books…

Do you wonder how masculinity is perceived in other cultures? In Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity, anthropologist David D Gilmore examines concepts of manhood around the world.

How do teens and young men develop their conceptions of masculinity? Scholar Michael S Kimmel has written Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men as an examination of the American journey to manhood.

Home Video

Related home video titles:

For a more successful dark comedy – albeit with significant content concerns – adult viewers can try The Dead Don’t Die.

Teen and adult audiences will get a kick out of Napoleon Dynamite, the archetypal film about a socially awkward guy with a good heart.