‘Swiss Army Man’ Passes Gas And The Weirdness Test With Aplomb (Movie Review)

swiss army man thumbThe press notes for the bizarre buddy comedy that is Swiss Army Man state the film comes from the minds behind the visionary “Turn Down For What” music video. That is an apt way of presenting a film that allows a man and a living corpse to become friends and explore the facets of life to varying emotional degrees. You also have to take into account how much this film almost feels like a dare for audiences to look past the fact that it largely plays like the artsiest fart joke to ever get acquired during Sundance.


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There is a basic setup that will surely prepare you for the madness that ensues in this mix of broad humor and sweet-natured dramatic comedy. Paul Dano is Hank, a man marooned on an island at the verge of suicide. He suddenly finds purpose in life again upon discovering a corpse that washes ashore. This corpse is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), but he is no ordinary corpse. In addition to the constant farting that allows Manny to propel through the water, he is also equipped with a number of fantastical powers.

Much like the walkouts that occurred during this film’s initial screening at Sundance, I’m sure many may be turned off from this film, based on the knowledge of its protagonist relying on the farting corpse of Harry Potter. As you may expect though, this film goes much further than just that. Actually, that is only partially accurate. There is a depth explored by the characters (Manny eventually begins to speak – albeit in a stilted manner), but it is not as if this is the first time a movie explores the virtues of life.

Obviously any film has the ability to tackle various themes and concepts that have already been explored, but I wrestled with Swiss Army Man as far as determining whether or not I was supposed to consider the film’s importance, were it to not to feature a farting corpse as a co-lead. Of course, that would mean looking at any high-concept and stripping it away to see what is underneath, which takes away what the film is. After all, some wanted to criticize Boyhood by claiming its 12-year filmmaking period was a gimmick. One can look at that film in that way, but at that point you just have to take it or leave it, as that’s the film you’re getting.

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The film I got here was one in which Dano forms a bond with a corpse. The better thing to consider is how effective the actors are at conveying their ridiculous roles. I often find myself at odds with Dano, as his acting style tends to rub me the wrong way. Perhaps he’s finally winning me over, as recent years have found me more responsive to what he has to offer, with Love & Mercy working as a shining example. In Swiss Army Man, while Radcliffe has the showier role, we get to see some real emotional turmoil from a man clearly challenged by social norms.

Let’s get to Radcliffe though, who has certainly been trying to move on from his most notable film role as ‘the boy who lived’. A role like Manny is tricky to say the least and while I am not sure what kind of physical work was required in an age of stunts and visual effects, Radcliffe certainly appears to be giving his all to a strange and surprisingly affecting performance. Manny has no memory of life so we watch him develop over time and it is strangely endearing. Radcliffe handles the material with a weird sort of joy that makes it awful hard to ignore, assuming you’re over the whole farting corpse aspect.

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Directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who are collectively known as DANIELS, seem to know what they are doing when it comes to balancing the broad comedy with more introspective ideas. As a first theatrical feature, Swiss Army Man could use more control and a better handling on pace, but the film is far from unwatchable. If anything, the solid production design and wonderful Northern California locations do a great job of helping the bizarre story evoke thoughts of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

Sure to be divisive, I got a lot of weird enjoyment out of Swiss Army Man. It is a film that will be known for its ridiculous setup, but there is a lot to glean from it. The actors certainly invest all they have into the material and form a neat relationship in the process. Establishing a look and sound for the film was certainly important as well and this film easily delivers visually, given both the surreal nature of the concept and the practical locations found. If ever there was a strange film to discover and find interest in, Swiss Army Man certainly squeaks out some wacky fun and emotion.

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