Director: Dan Dwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Set amidst a thick forrest along the beach of some unknown island, Dan Swan and Daniel Scheinert’s Swiss Army Man is a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And while that isn’t always a good thing, their innovative approach breathes life into the otherwise unusual story.
Selling itself as a character driven drama that involves a man, alone on an island, who befriends a corpse that has washed onto the beach (a la Cast Away), the film quickly changes course, mainly by way of a near fifteen minute fart joke that continues to randomly surface throughout the film.
Told through the eyes of Paul Dano’s Hank, we catch our first glimpse of the budding 20-something year-old with a noose around his neck mere moments before he is set to step off a rock and end his life. Though we are never told exactly how long he has been on the island, his dried out lips and burnt face lead us to believe that its been a while. But just as he is set to take his final step a floating corpse (played with flawless precision by Daniel Radcliffe) catches his eye.
It is at this moment that an immediate friendship begins as Hank allows his imagination to explode, giving the newly discovered corpse a voice and a run of special powers that allow Hank to foresee a chance of rescue. Working hard to uncover the who, what, where, when and why of his new friend, whom he has named Manny, with only a cellphone to use as clues the two decide to work through things slowly, utilizing character reenactment to jog a memory or two and piece together the puzzle that is Manny’s past.
The film relies heavily on its never-ending run of ridiculous (albeit somewhat funny) gags, utilizing shock factor and overall immaturity to gain laughs. Many of the chuckles will surface out of confusion, most prominently when Manny speeds through the water thanks to a wealth of flagellants that propel him in much the same vein as a jet ski. Not to be outdone, erections also play an important role in the film’s abundance of potty humor, giving the thirteen-year-old boys something to laugh at while their female counterparts giggle awkwardly.
That isn’t to say that Swiss Army Man isn’t without heart. Focusing heavily on a budding friendship between two men (one of which is actually dead), the film cleverly intermixes raunchy, immature humor and a rather heavy dose of creativity with a psychological character examination, which serves as the backbone of the film’s main storyline.
Swiss Army Man reaches its peak when the duo begin to act out a series of scenarios, almost all of which take place on a bus. With Dano embodying the female figure found on Manny’s phone, an engaging montage fills the screen as we witness a truly remarkable chemistry bud between Dano and Radcliffe. The two absorb the moment, hitting their stride and giving us a rare, intimate look into their growing bond. The scene is polished off with immaculate editing, showcasing the keen eye by the Daniels as they drive home the story’s focal point: friendship.
While the Shyamalan-inspired ending is a bit over dramatic and comes directly out of left field, I applaud the attempt to give a conclusion that is appropriate given the film’s first two acts. It isn’t perfect, and is likely to frustrate many; however, for those that have stuck through the farts, erections and boob jokes, you’ll find it hard to argue that a film like Swiss Army Man simply can’t take the rational route. It would be against its very existence.