Swiss Army Man” first came on my radar when reports came out about its first public showing at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. Apparently, the opening sequence caused about half of the audience to storm out of the theater booing, while the other half endlessly praised the film.
The reason so many people walked out of the film? Because the opening sequence shows Paul Dano riding a corpse of Daniel Radcliffe through the ocean like a jet ski, powered by Radcliffe’s farts. No joke, that’s how the movie opens up, and it only gets weirder, more polarizing and personally more enjoyable from there.
“Swiss Army Man” tells the story of Hank, played by Dano, a young man who is trapped on a deserted island on the brink of suicide. However, just as he is about to hang himself, a corpse washes ashore. Hank ends up riding the corpse across the ocean in the previously described “fart-skiing” sequence, and ends up on what seems like a new island, still far away from civilization.
However, after a bit of time with Hank, the corpse begins to wake up, revealing his name is Manny and….not much else. Through Manny’s ever-evolving list of odd bodily function powers, (skin rough enough to start fires, water-purifying saliva, the ability to spit things up with the force of a machine gun and much, much more) Hank begins to make his way home and may make friends with a seemingly dead guy in the process.
The biggest strength in “Swiss Army Man” is the acting. Dano and Radcliffe are alone for 99 percent of the film, but their chemistry and general dedication to the parts make the two of them feel just as entertaining and endearing as any large ensemble of actors.
Dano plays Hank with a sense of innocence and awkwardness, not just on the surface, but also deeper in his psyche. This makes the character charming and fun, but there is something about him you know he is not revealing for a large part of the film.
Radcliffe also kills it as Manny, being perfectly still for most of the movie in both body and parts of his face. Yet he ends up being an absolute riot, having some of the funniest lines in the film. He portrays Manny as a curious child trapped in a grown man’s body, since after his death he hardly remembers anything about the world in which he used to live.
This leads to some awkwardly unprintable conversations, (this movie certainly earns its R rating) and also some genuinely sweet and heartwarming moments. While Dano and Radcliffe are not the film’s only actors, I feel as if revealing any more would be a spoiler for the film’s finale, so I won’t say anything.
The plot and Manny’s bodily functions are no the only bizarrely wonderful parts of the film, however. The soundtrack is also a beautiful combination of mostly a capella moments and some covers of highly recognizable tunes.
For example, a scene may begin with Hank sitting in a cave, humming to himself. Then, all of a sudden, Hank will stop humming but the tune he was humming will play in the background, split into multi-part harmonies with countermelodies and an overall gorgeously unique tone.
While the original a capella tracks are absolutely gorgeous, especially the tribal alt-rock sounding track “Montage,” the sudden covers of already-existing songs are magical as well.
“Swiss Army Man” may be the only film to ever exist that contains an all-Daniel Radcliffe a capella version of the theme to “Jurassic Park,” simply because a corpse enjoys the idea of seeing a pretty woman on a bus ride.
Yes, that scene actually happens in the film, and it is surprisingly beautiful, kind of touching and one of the best scenes to describe to people outside of the opening sequence.
Despite all this, it must be said that “Swiss Army Man” is not for everyone. If you are the type of person who rolls their eyes or groans at the thought of juvenile bodily function jokes, then you would probably be more annoyed than charmed with the film.
If you like your comedies fast, goofy and easily accessible, then it may hold your attention for a bit, but the admittedly slow and repetitive pacing may be a little too much for you.
The film is not for the squeamish or people who suffer secondhand embarrassment super easily either because sometimes the bodily functions can be too bizarre and embarrassing, (I don’t think I’m allowed to print what part of Manny functions as a compass) and Hank’s personality may be too awkward and cringeworthy at times for people.
“Swiss Army Man” is definitely worth a watch just for its sheer ambition and creativity. Dano and Radcliffe give it their all with such a bizarre script to make it charming and fun, the soundtrack is unique and absolutely beautiful and there are some gorgeous shots and sequences throughout the film.
While not everyone might enjoy the film, it is not a waste of time if you feel intrigued to check it out. It is one of the most unique films I have seen in a long, long time, and it is definitely going to be a talking point between moviegoers for a while.