Manodrome is a shocking but crude meditation exploring the limits of toxic masculinity, featuring Jesse Eisenberg in an unforgettable, explosive performance.
It’s been a minute since we’ve encountered generational masculine rage à la Taxi Driver (1976) and Fight Club (1999), but there’s a new Jesse Eisenberg-led film attempting to do just that. Sort of. Manodrome is a drama-thriller exploring the phases and limits of male anger and desperation when incited by the warped ideologies of a cult. It’s a meditation on toxic masculinity; however, instead of a deep dive into a character study, Manodrome offers more of a one-eyed peek into a critically impressionable time in one man’s life where his downward spiral plays out as anything but boring. Witnessing Eisenberg spin out of control the way he does is explosive and unforgettable—ultimately becoming the one thing that works about Manodrome, and the main reason you should see it.
Eisenberg is Ralphie, a recently laid-off maintenance worker and soon-to-be father struggling to make ends meet. He lives with his very pregnant girlfriend (Odessa Young, of The Stand), who holds down a job at a convenience store to help financially prepare for the child he pushed her to have. Day in and day out, Ralphie struggles with feelings of self-loathing, aimlessness, and intense confusion over his sexual identity. As a child, he was deeply wounded and silenced when his father abandoned him; now, he appears to be an uneducated loner of sorts, having never discovered his true self and with time running out.
Looming adult responsibilities hang over Ralphie like a growing storm cloud, creating a sense that the world is closing in on him. As such, he splits his time between his gig as an Uber driver and the gym where he blows off steam. Having once believed that fatherhood would save him, Ralphie now finds himself wondering if living the domestic life is even worth it. How can he ever get ahead in a world that devalues manual labor and tramples right over men like him?
(Side note: Eisenberg fans, Manodrome is your chance to see the actor all beefed up. He spent nearly two years in the gym putting on muscle for this role.)
One day, Ralphie’s work-out buddy, Jason (Philip Ettinger, of Bupkis), who also sells Ralphie Percocet, introduces him to “the guys”: a diverse group of bachelors living together in a mansion owned by their leader (and bankroller), Dan (Adrien Brody, of Asteroid City). “Dad Dan,” as he insists on being called, is a three-time divorcee who, feeling threatened in his masculinity, revolted against the progress of gender norms and gender roles and created his own “family” in backlash, Manodrome—a libertarian masculinity cult. Manodrome is a play on the term “manosphere”—a term for misogynist online communities including so-called incels and men’s rights activists.
Split into tiers of “Dads” and “Brothers”, the men support each other with shared chores, bunk beds, ritualistic confessions, and cult-like chants about the importance of respect. They also bond over things like semen retention and are encouraged to abandon their previous lives in pursuit of group celibacy. Most of them just disappear to cut off ties to their previous families because it “just makes it easier.” Ralphie begins feeling a sense of community, especially when the material perks appear, accompanied by Dad Dan emboldening him to act out against, well, everything and everyone and release his inner alpha.
“There’s a beauty inside of you,” Dad Dan says to Ralphie during a vulnerable moment. “You have the cataclysmic power in you to create and annihilate.”
This is all Ralphie needs to hear for his perspective to change, and it isn’t long before he prefers his new family life to his old one and starts opening himself up to Dad Dan’s ideologies and way of living. Dan is in tune with Ralphie’s inherent pain and sadness, and he preys on that, using it to incite rage and power within Ralphie’s psyche, grooming him to explode little by little.
Struggling to make a clean break from his girlfriend and his unborn child, Ralphie begins ignoring Sal while committing increasingly dangerous crimes to fill their bank account and feed his overpowering yearning for respect. In the blink of an eye, Ralphie just disappears, missing the moment his child enters the world. When he does finally return, she gives him a taste of his own medicine in experience that sets off a violent string of events for Ralphie.
While Manodrome doesn’t fully flesh things out like we’d perhaps like it to, it’s still an interesting watch, mostly because of Eisenberg’s visceral portrayal. In that way, the film functions as a meditation on what happens when life gets to be too much; on what happens when desperation is fueled by deep-seated, inherent anger; and on what happens when we try to take our power back with a lack of awareness. Manodrome is, in essence, a character study of sorts—Eisenberg’s bread and butter.
However, instead of the cocky, motor-mouthed bravado he’s known for, Manodrome sees Eisenberg as a quiet, beefed-up ticking time bomb full of pent-up emotions. For all intents and purposes, Manodrome is Eisenberg doing what he does best. Quite simply, he is explosive and phenomenal in a performance that shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’ll have you sitting open-mouthed and, at times, in shock.
As Dad Dan, Adrien Brody is quite charming but not overly charismatic; he’s almost too perfect. He’s suave, rich, good-looking, and, most importantly, extremely perceptive and empathetic, which makes him the perfect predator with smooth disarming tactics. From the second Dan sees he’s got a “live wire” in Ralphie, he leans in to trip it. Beyond this purpose, Manodrome weakly develops Dad Dan and his cult beyond mere introductions.
Overall, while Manodrome struggles at times to fully develop its characters and explain its story, it features several twists and turns sure to stick with you long after the movie ends. Also crude and sensationalized, Manodrome presents us with a perspective that is nothing like Taxi Driver or Fight Club. But then I wonder: Is it really trying to be? I don’t think so.
Manodrome is now available to watch on digital and on demand.