On a rather soupy night in Downtown Brooklyn, New York, movie-goers of all ages headed into the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in hopes to catch a glimpse of the kick-ass cast of The Art of Self-Defense.
“It’s great, I didn’t even know [The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema] existed!”, Jesse Eisenberg quipped before continuing on to say, “this is the perfect movie theater for the movie, and it’s the right audience for this kind of movie which is really funny, and subversive, and dark and post-modern.”
The genre of dark comedy takes on a new meaning under the direction of Riley Stearns, who also wrote the screenplay for The Art of Self-Defense, combining martial arts, misogyny, societal standards, and sexism – all without missing a single beat.
Throughout a variety of extreme scenarios covering society’s expectations in the film, such as witnessing the main character, Casey punch his boss in the throat to assert his male dominance, the audience is taken on a wild journey. Viewers watching the film for the first time may even find themselves relating to the pressure of measuring up to their own society’s standards.
“It’s been a really interesting thing to see that I’m not the only person that feels that way,” Stearns explains before continuing, “there are other men that feel that way, women are relating to the film… and even people who are trans have come up to me and talked about how they’re finding elements of it that relate to their story in a very different way.” In taking a moment to absorb the feedback of The Art of Self-Defense, Stearns exhales with a smile before saying, “I’m thrilled that people are responding to it.”
While The Art of Self-Defense does consist of a mostly-male cast, each karate-chop and roundhouse kick was cleverly choreographed by top world martial artist; Mindy Kelly. At just the tender age of 4, Kelly began studying and competing in the world of martial arts, eventually landing stunt coordinator roles for films like Alita: Battle Angel, and Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s music video for “Telephone”. Even with a number of high-profile roles under her literal blackbelt, Mindy remains humble and credits her talent to the art of “storytelling through movement”.
“With Jesse and Imogen, I had a week to give them a crash course,” Kelly explains. Alessandro Nivola, who plays the off-beat character of “Sensei”, received the news of his casting in the movie just one week prior to its filming, leaving minimal time for prep. “I had 24-hours to teach him how to be “Sensei”, Kelly says with pride before continuing, “It’s incredible, [the cast] absorbs all the information, they are such an incredible talent.
While the cast seems equally excited about working on The Art of Self-Defense, no one could be more proud than Stearns who calls the film a “very personal” one. “At the end of the day it’s a film about just being yourself,” Stearns says with a smile before continuing, “as cheesy as that topic is, that’s really what I wanted to say with this movie.”