Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: Swiss Army Man

Image courtesy of A24.
I'll say this for Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan's "Swiss Army Man" - there's nothing else quite like it. Much like Spike Jonze's "Being John Malkovich" or Leos Carax's "Holy Motors," the picture is something wholly unique, at least narratively speaking. But unlike those recent classics, "Swiss Army Man" is just as likely to annoy as it is to cause admiration for its blatant disregard for the rules of narrative filmmaking.

Known simply as Daniels (referring to the directors' shared first names), the filmmakers have crafted one of the most outrageously bizarre buddy movies I've ever come across. The picture moves by its own sense of logic and leaves its peculiar story just open-ended enough to make you wonder what you've seen is meant to be real, imagined, fantasized or dreamed.

As the film opens, a lonely, repressed man named Hank (Paul Dano) who has seemingly been stranded for reasons or explanations unknown on a small, deserted island is about to hang himself. However, just as he is about to end his life, he notices a body washed up on the beach. It turns out that the body is a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) who will come to be known as Manny and serve a purpose similar to - but much more expansive than - that beach ball in "Cast Away."

As it turns out, Manny is a gassy corpse. You read that right. He's so gassy, in fact, that Hank uses his body as a raft and his flatulence as a motor to push them to another larger island, where the two - or one, depending on your perspective of the film - of them must survive in the wilderness for a number of days (or is it months?).

Hank soon comes to find out that Manny's corpse has many uses - for starters, it stores water after rainstorms, which he then pumps out of Manny's mouth. He learns how to use its stiff arms to chop wood and its - how do I put this genteelly? I can't - erection as a compass. If this all sounds absurd to you, it should. The film received both raves and walk-outs during its premiere at Sundance earlier this year and critics seem to be divided as to whether it's a work of genius or just an example of filmmakers taking the piss, so to speak, with an audience.

Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention: Manny eventually begins to speak as if the corpse is discovering all over again the ways of the world. In many ways similar to a child, Manny learns from Hank about fear, love, sexual arousal and what weirdness is. Hank performs scenes from favorite movies as entertainment for Manny and schools the corpse on how to talk to a girl, although Hank himself clearly had problems following his own advice in his previous life.

At times, "Swiss Army Man" is funny and, occasionally, a little bit touching. But it's also a film that, at times, comes off as a bit too pleased with itself. And there are more than a few moments when the picture mistakes being offbeat and quirky with intelligence. It would appear that the movie reaches for a bit of profundity toward its finale - I say appear because there will likely be arguments as to what actually happens during the film's culmination - but I'm not sure it's been earned.

Dano, a truly underrated actor, gives a fine and challenging performance as Hank. Radcliffe makes the most out of the truly bizarre scenario in which his character finds itself, although he is not required to do as much heavy lifting.

So, all in all, I can appreciate "Swiss Army Man" for being something completely different that occasionally intrigues. It will likely make you laugh at least a few times and scratch your head a few others. I consider myself a champion of weird, off-the-beaten-path films and while "Swiss Army Man" certainly fits into that mold, it is, after all, just a movie about a stranded man and a farting corpse. It's a well-enough made curio item with moderate returns.


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  2. "Unique" is right. I didn't love Swiss Army Man, but I definitely appreciated it and laughed quite a bit.

    - Zach (