Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead | Written and Directed by Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Kwan and Scheinert write and direct was is one of the most unusual films I’ve seen in a while, Swiss Army Man. A small cast (most of the movie is Dano and Radcliffe) taking an absurdist concept and playing with it in the strangest ways possible. The plot see’s Hank (Dano), a suicidal man deserted on some kind of island, about to hang himself as he grunts a few attempts at poignancy. He suddenly spots a flatulent corpse washed up at the side of the water and it isn’t long before Hank, distracted from his attempt to take his own life, is riding the dead body like a jet-ski across the ocean waves. The weirdness has begun. The story follows Hank and the dead body, who eventually reveals himself through throaty mumbling as Manny, as they discuss life and what it means to be human. Hank teaches Manny, who has no recollection of his old life, about love and sex and food, about taking a bus and dancing and singing. We also find that Manny isn’t just a corpse, he also has “special abilities” so to speak. Providing water from his drooping open mouth, chopping wood with his stiff limbs and shooting animals as Hank uses him as a gun and loads his mouth with household items. Yeah… It’s not something you’ll have seen before. It’s equal parts buddy-comedy and bizarre-drama. It’s better if you just see it, because to go into the plot and tell you exactly what “it’s about” is a strange one.
There are lots of farts in this movie. Lots of moments where you wonder if the writers will “go there” and when they do it feels good. Radcliffe himself has highlighted people’s opinions of the film being “Terrence Malick meets the Farrelly Brothers” and I can see why. It has moments of gross-out humour mixed in with pure weirdness. It manages, though, to have genuine heart too. I went, at times, from raising my eyebrows and shaking my head at the juvenile and ridiculous imagery I was seeing, to listening intently to the dialogue and seeing deeper meaning behind what was going on. It is a smart film, while being completely dumb at the same time. That isn’t easy, but Kwan, Scheinert and the small and excellent cast do a wonderful job at succeeding.
Dano is great as Hank. I am a Paul Dano fan anyway, I think he is a fantastic actor. He does a top notch job here, showing joy, fear, depression and awe as he explores life with a corpse that is capable of doing some very unusual things. Radcliffe is also very enjoyable to watch. His physical comedy is great and Manny, a mostly floppy (though at times stiff) dead guy, is given real “life”, pardon the pun, by Radcliffe’s naive and likeable performance. The two of them have a chemistry and manage to bring genuine soul to a friendship that should be way too preposterous to accept.
I really enjoyed Swiss Army Man. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I can see this movie really dividing audiences in much the same way as the 2014 Lenny Abrahamson flick Frank. Some will love it, and some will think it just too ludicrous. Luckily, I enjoy my ludicrousness and even more so with a nice big dollop of intelligence. The two writer-directors deserve a lot of credit for really taking it to heights of completely bat-shit insane. Sometimes you come across a film that is all about a peculiar idea but just doesn’t take it far enough. This, thankfully, isn’t one of them. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, it’s remarkably acted and the cinematography and creativity on show is fantastic. Not for everyone, but certainly for me. Recommended.