A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.
It would be fair to say ‘Swiss Army Man’ has polarised critics and audiences alike from the minute it was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was first dubbed ‘that movie where Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse’. As bizarre as that may sound, it’s both completely true and only one of Radcliffe’s character’s interesting and unusual skills. This is undoubtedly an oddity destined for cult status with some people whilst others will be put off by the bizarre premise and downright weirdness. The best praise I can give ‘Swiss Army Man’ is that it’s very dedicated to a singular, original vision, but I’m unconvinced about how much it works, despite a couple of excellent lead performances.
In the first ten minutes, a man attempts to commit suicide, discovers a flatulent corpse, then uses the corpse as a jet ski to travel across a body of water. If you’re not with the film after this point you’re probably going to struggle with the rest! The man committing suicide is Hank (Paul Dano), who’s become marooned on an island for reasons unknown at this point, whilst the corpse is played by Daniel Radcliffe. Perhaps what makes the film work to a certain extent is the commitment from Dano and Radcliffe to their performances, particularly in playing it absolutely straight and resisting the temptation to embrace the absurdity of the situation. Dano isn’t playing a character too far removed from those he’s played in the past, but he brings tenderness to his portrayal of Hank and gradually starts to find new layers of emotion throughout the films runtime. If you can look past the incessant reliance on Manny’s bodily functions, there’s actually quite a touching bond developed between the two leads, with the introverted Hank finding someone to share his feelings with, albeit that person isn’t really alive.
‘Swiss Army Man’ embraces its status as an indie movie in several other ways, with a twee score from two members of the band ‘Manchester Orchestra’ and a strong focus on character development. In fact, you could take out the absurdist stretches and the film would probably work just fine, but these moments are what makes the film different from anything else, for better or worse. I’m still not really sure if I enjoyed it or not – there are certainly praise worthy elements, not least the terrific performances, and there’s a sweet undertone that cuts across the crass body humour, but it does often feel like a short film stretched out to a feature.
Directed By: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead