In the current cinematic landscape that’s populated by so many hollow, generic big budget spectacles, sheer eccentricity and audaciousness is greatly appreciated. And “Swiss Army Man” has a lot of that. Though, eccentricity on its own isn’t enough to carry a feature length film. Luckily, “Swiss Army Man” has plenty of heart and charm to go along with its quirkiness.
“Swiss Army Man” (written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known as “The Daniels” in the credits) is the indie darling that took the 2016 Sundance film festival by storm. You know, the one about a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe? A farting corpse that’s befriended by Paul Dano? Yet, while it does contain a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe, the picture is much more than that. It’s a small film that reaches magnificent, sometimes profound heights and manages to pack a lot into its hour and ninety-five minute run time. “Swiss Army Man” is a wildly funny, endearing, beautiful exploration of love, friendship, loneliness and depression.
It’s also features a farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe.
The film opens on a desert island somewhere in the Pacific. Hank (Dano) is stranded and is getting ready to hang himself. That is until he spots said farting corpse (in a dress coat, blue plaited shirt and slacks) lying on the beach, farting like there’s no tomorrow. The flatulent corpse, named Manny, gives Hank a new lease on life. And just when you think “Swiss Army Man” is going to turn into “Castaway” (with a farting corpse instead of a volleyball) Hank rides Manny like a jet ski (as you do) to the mainland, right next to a temperate forest.
Manny slowly begins to take on a life of his own and the two embark on a journey back to civilization. That’s all I’m going to say plot wise because “Swiss Army Man” is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable film I’ve seen all year. Every time you think you have it figured out it, the movie takes a left turn and gets progressively weirder.
However, “Swiss Army Man” remains coherent and focused from start to finish and its never quirky for the sake of being quirky. The farting corpse gimmick isn’t used simply because its silly and unexpected, it also serves a purpose, which is a ridiculous thing to type but it’s nevertheless true. Going back to the Jet Ski scene, Manny’s flatulence helps get Hank off the island and away from certain death. It literally propels the narrative forward. Additionally, the act of farting takes on a much greater significance in the film overall. As peculiar as “Swiss Army Man” gets that peculiarity either moves the story forward or deepens the characters.
At the same time, The Daniels know when to dial back the strange and allow for genuine, straightforward drama/emotion to play out between Hank and Manny. The film tackles weighty issues like anxiety and depression with delicacy and tenderness. “Swiss Army Man” mixes mundane earnestness and nutty surrealism almost perfectly.
The Daniels script is vibrant and intelligent, full of amusing one-liners (“If you don’t know ‘Jurassic Park’ you don’t know sh-t,”) and simple yet oddly brilliant insights (when you’re first getting to know a romantic partner you go to the movies but when you’re more comfortable with each other you stay in and watch Netflix). It’s also strongly committed to character. Through their interactions, the layers of both Hank and Manny are gradually peeled back.
That being said, The Daniels trust the intelligence of the audience by not over explaining—letting us to fill in the gaps, while also allowing for ambiguity in regards to the overall situation. The uncertainty of the setting gives the picture an otherworldly, at times lyrical feeling. Meanwhile, we’re unsure if the events taking place are real or imaginary, though in the long run it doesn’t really matter. The Daniels convincingly create a world in which a man using another man as a water vehicle seems perfectly plausible.
None of this would be possible without Dano and Radcliffe. With his lanky body structure and boyish face, Dano easily slips into the kind but deeply insecure Hank, giving an understated performance that becomes increasingly vulnerable as the film goes on. It’s almost impossible to feel completely unsympathetic towards him. Radcliffe is also sensational--childlike and introspective in equal measure. He’s simultaneously the comic relief and the voice of reason. Radcliffe brings warmth and dimension to a cold gassy corpse.
“Swiss Army Man” is easily the strangest film I’ve seen all year; it’s also one of the best. Yes, I’m talking about the film with the farting corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe.