‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!’ Review: A Blunt Philosophy

The writer Mark Manson is an onscreen guide in this visualization of his self-help book.

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By Ben Kenigsberg

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In this docu-illustration of his popular self-help book, the author Mark Manson, as an onscreen guide, shares his philosophy of fulfillment. The ethos has a lot of parts, but much of it boils down to the idea that life is full of disappointments and that people can get better about accepting them. You have the power to choose how many hoots you give.

That might sound like patronizing advice, but Manson delivers it in reassuring, Dude-like koans (he calls for a simple cultural acknowledgment that “most of us suck at most of the things we do — and that’s fine”) that make it go down easy.

The director Nathan Price grasps at various ways to visualize Manson’s concepts. We see re-enactments of incidents and friendships that shaped the writer’s life; an animated, graphic novel-style version of the story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who refused to believe that World War II had ended; and cameraphone videos of people lashing out. The last might be a slightly inapt choice, given that it comes sometime after Manson’s feelings on the negative effects of the “human highlight reel of social media.”

Manson reveals his epiphanies without ever quite divulging the source of his expertise or filling out his career arc — there’s a bit of a gap between professing to have had only one real job and becoming a best-selling author. (Manson subsequently co-wrote Will Smith’s 2021 memoir.) But if “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!” helps people, its deficiencies as a movie don’t matter much.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!
Rated R. It’s already pushing things with that title. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

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