Overview: A shipwrecked man finds hope in a washed up corpse. A24; 2016; Rated R; 95 minutes.
Beginning Before the Beginning: The sheer satisfaction of Swiss Army Man begins before the film does. That a movie with such an absurd premise can exist deserves applause and perhaps hints that Hollywood (or at least production studio extraordinaire A24) is becoming bolder in rewarding new and similarly audacious ideas.
The Players: Daniel Radcliffe, once The Boy Who Lived, finds himself in the role of farting corpse here. Somehow, his performance is perfect. His Manny, so dubbed by Paul Dano’s struggling shipwreck survivor Hank, has forgotten his life. So sparks a beautiful friendship harboring a similarly beautiful sentiment – in which Hank, who has accepted his loneliness from hi estrangement from society and given up on life is forced to introduce Manny to the beauties of living and civilization. If it doesn’t here, this central conceit makes an unbelievable amount of sense within Swiss Army Man – and the two central performances certainly sell the preposterousness.
As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this is no longer a desperate tale of survival, but rather a plea to live – to not just face the variables and tribulations that life usually sets but to learn to adapt and find the beauty within them. Hank’s problem is not the island or the ocean that separates him from society: it is society itself.
The Creators: Writers and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinhart (the Daniels) fill every minute of Swiss Army Man with a hilarious vulgarity radiating around an earnest and moving core. They set the conditions for a wide array of emotions to be felt; what is funny one moment can morph into heartbreak before once again turning to joy in seconds. Montages are done to perfection. An electrifying and equally creative score comprised mostly of acapella beats from Andy Hull and Robert McDowell definitely helps. Contagiously energetic, it imbues the film with an unbridled and naked energy that drives quick pacing and a ceaseless joyfulness. That is until the very end, when a finale, which feels entirely detached from the rest of the film, drags it all back into a realm of (somewhat) morbid reality, almost siphoning the fun from the hour or so before it.
The Product: Until then, the whole project is bursting with so much creativity that it feels hard to imagine ever forgetting it. Kelsi Ephraim, with wonderfully complex set design, surely validates that adage which states that one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Wood, rope, and trash create such an imaginative and believable world within the jungle, filled with unbelievable contraptions that would make any scoutmaster swoon.
Overall: It is fairly easy to dismiss this film as sophomoric, which it is, with its whole slew of boner, fart, and masturbation jokes, but its juvenility is no reason for dismissal. Swiss Army Man embraces its immaturity and executes its story creatively and intelligently enough to deserve more credit than some may want to extend across its grossness. For audiences that can get past premise, Swiss Army Man is an extremely fun, well-acted, well-written, well-directed, and above all, unforgettable cinematic experience.
Featured Image: A24