Swiss Army Man
Directed by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert.
Written by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert.
Starring: Paul Dano (Hank), Daniel Radcliffe (Manny), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Sarah), Antonia Ribero (Crissie), Timothy Eulich (Preston), Richard Gross (Hanks Dad).
I’m not sure I liked Swiss Army Man that much – but I admire the hell out of the movie. This is one of those rare movies that I feel confident in saying it is precisely the film that the filmmakers set out to make. It is original and weird in many way, even if when the whole thing is over its hard not to be a little letdown by what was ultimately a fairly standard message – not to mention the fact that as the film progresses, it starts to repeat itself far too often, and it has way too many montages for any one film. And yet, the film sticks with you – it’s strange in an endearing way. The film wants to be both juvenile and profound, and while it doesn’t hit that sweet spot, well, I’m not sure it was possible to hit. You cannot help but admire writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for trying it – or Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe for so wholeheartedly embracing the challenge.
The film opens of a desert island, where Hank (Dano) is about to kill himself – he’s been stranded there for who knows how long and has had enough. But then, someone else washes up on shore – Hank thinks that perhaps he is saved, or at least will have some company. It turns out though that the person who washed up is a corpse, so Hank is still alone. Or is he? The corpse, who Hank will eventually name Manny (Radcliffe) never really comes back to life, but he does start talking and doing other things as well – like fart, turn into a Jet Ski, etc. Manny has the mind of a child, who doesn’t know anything or the world, so Hank slowly, and carefully, explains everything to him as they walk through the jungle.
There are a myriad of ways this film could end up going horribly wrong – and to be fair, I do think the film falls into some of those way. And yet, overall, I think the film works quite well. Part of that is the performances – I know that Dano is a divisive actor, but I think his earnestness in this film serves him well – he plays everything mainly straight, and even if his character is more than a little pathetic (and creepy), you do end up feeling for him in the end. Radcliffe has, in some ways, the more difficult role, despite the fact that he’s dead and barely has to do anything except remain limp. He’s an innocent – but not that innocent (kids can be curious about sex – but not quite in the way Manny is for instance).
I think the goofier Swiss Army Gets, the better it is. The movie, of course, isn’t realistic for a moment – not even the end of the film, when Hank and Manny have their isolation bubble burst and have to deal with other people – and the film works better when it embraces that. When it tries to get serious – when starts explaining love, and his relationship with his father for example, the film becomes harder to take seriously. Its observations on relationships are about as juvenile as you would expect in a film that thinks that a farting corpse isn’t just funny once – it’s funny over and over and over again for 100 minutes.
I didn’t laugh very much in Swiss Army Man, even when I knew the film was trying to be funny, and I don’t think the film has much to offer in the way of insights into humanity, and eventually the originality of the film starts to wear thin. And yet, I have to say I admired Swiss Army Man for going for broke. No, I’m not sure the film really works in any meaningful way – but it’s not really like anything else you’ll see this year. It’s the first film by a directing pair who I want to see more from – even if this time through, I think they missed as much as they didn’t.