You know, I have been down the rabbit hole of cinematic weirdness before, ranging from the peculiar to the downright ludicrous. But this one, “Swiss Army Man”, takes the fucking biscuit. If you take anything else away from today’s review, it can be that you will never have seen anything like this before. Or, I hope so at least.
So why is it so mad? Well, the film starts with a man named Hank (Paul Dano) who has been stuck on a remote island for a considerable length of time. He is ready to give up by committing suicide when he spots a body being washed up on the water (Daniel Radcliffe). This introduction of another human being, all be it dead, seems to give Hank renewed hope, especially as this body he calls Manny, has special powers. Which are in the form of considerable farting, compass-erections, gushing out water on demand, and pretty much any other absurdly hilariously idea you can imagine.
To put this all in some form of context, the title screen features Hank riding Manny on the water using his flatulence to propel forward like a jet ski…. just let that image sink in for a minute. I think I may need to pass on whatever drugs incited this script, but then again the results of this mad fever dream are a lot more satisfying than you’d initially imagine. Sure, it is full of farts, boners, and buttocks. And on the front you may throw this movie aside as some stupid, immature Indie release. But bear with me on this, because what you have here is one of 2016’s best releases.
The constantly recurring theme throughout is death, and the perceptions of it by someone who has lost everything until he found Manny. He certainly wasn’t very successful in life, and holds a lot of regrets which the audience will connect with quite easily – lack of self confidence, a poor relationship with parents, unrequited love, and a desire to find true meaning. But there’s also the telegraphed side of Manny, funnily enough being a corpse who has no understanding of life, to which Hank tries to explain it to. What you end up with is someone who is having a severe existential crisis, and their means of coming to terms with it becomes both helpful and harmful at the same time.
It makes for a narrative that is kind of fascinating to read into, and one that you can consider from more than one viewpoint. The illustration of it does indeed have crass humour, but the complete absurdity of this humour alongside that narrative makes it feel like nothing you have seen before. I was constantly veering between utter confusion at what I was seeing, moments where I was bursting out laughing, and those times where I had to sit back and think about what was being hinted to. There have been plenty occasions where existential movies get a bit too far up their own rear ends, but here, that rear end is part of the structure of the film. Weird, huh?
Let’s take a bit of time to talk about the main actors. Paul Dano is a superb bit of casting fro this role, he conveys the complete lack of control this character has over their real life, issues, and his fall into enlightenment / madness while with Manny. He has that look of being someone who never has any amount of good luck in their lives, but more from their indecisions rather than simply making bad decisions. Daniel Radcliffe, keeping in form by taking some utterly insane scripts, is brilliant in here. You may be wondering how an animated corpse could possibly bring anything in terms of performance quality, and yet his dedication along with the choices of where the movies goes totally makes it work. It helps too that it looked like they were both having a riot with the film, it must have been a great set to work on.
And I can assume that from some of the details shown in the special features, it was a project of love for the entire team who had worked on many movies together previously. The inclusion of practical effects in every aspect of the story is extremely impressive, many of the moments you may assume to be CG (such as that fart-powered jet ski scene) were done practically. The sets are wonderfully elaborate too, just full of imaginative ideas and ways to express the underlining story beats within the visuals. This is especially true in the second act where the pair begin to re-enact scenes to try and help Manny with remembering his past.
If I had one complaint to bring up, and it is just one, it would be that the plot device of the mobile phone is something that could probably have been simplified due to the bearing it has on the overall story. It’s not a major complaint, but one I will give mention to. Other than that, the music is wonderfully witty and again, messes with your expectations to funny results. And to reiterate that the emotional beats in the story really are genuine – to come to pity the characters in their situations, and cheer them on in their exploits as they begin to bond. I guess the word that would sum it up would be endearing.
I had been waiting a very long time to get the chance to see “Swiss Army Man”, and it is safe to say that some people simply won’t get what is being attempted here. The dizzying levels of absurdity might throw audiences off who were maybe expecting something else, or they may only remember the film for those moments, and not the other interesting aspects being talked about. Which would be a shame. For me, I had a notion of what to expect, and was still blown away by how everything came together. there’s that brief moment like there was in “Deadpool”, where you’re adjusting to how extreme and off-the-edge the humour is, but once you do, you immediately settle in.
This is probably on my list for one of the best films of 2016, and certainly one of the most enjoyable ones at that. It is so incredibly refreshing in both concept and execution, there are other films that are just as cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but none that are in such an enjoyable and ultimately, meaningful manner. That truly is the biggest surprise here – that you can have a dead body being literally used like a Swiss Army Knife including a Home-seeking boner, part of a story that has far more to it than that.
Thanks for reading!