Swiss Army Man (2016)

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Reviewer: Zep the Bear

The Plot

The movie opens with Paul Dano (“Hank”) alone on an island. His head is in a noose as he prepares to commit suicide. Before he completes the act, he notices a dead body wash ashore. The corpse (Daniel Radcliffe), who he christens “Manny,” soon becomes his key to escaping the island.

The body begins to flatulate uncontrollably. Hank rides the gaseous Manny like a jet ski off the island. The two end up on the mainland.

For each situation that Hank finds himself in, the body of Manny provides assistance. For instance, to make fire Hank snaps Manny’s jaw like a cigarette lighter.

Eventually, Manny becomes conscious. The two bond.

Manny has no memory of who he was prior to death. Hank fills in the blanks, leading him to believe that he was in love with a woman named Sarah.

Things continue on this bizarre path until the two stumble across civilization and the entire truth is revealed.

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I Get It, But…

There is a lot going on in this film. While it wrestles with topics such as loneliness, mental illness, and friendship, it is also a broad comedy that leans heavily on fart jokes and sight gags.

It is as if the writer/director duo of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan combined Weekend at Bernie’sCastawayand Pinocchio while dousing the script with a healthy dose of art school shenanigans.

And I’d be grossly inaccurate and misleading if I suggested that the movie doesn’t work on nearly every level. It is appropriately absurd, touching, or creepy where it needs to be.

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe each deliver nuanced and memorable performances.

Hell, Scheinert and Kwan constructed a great looking film. (The two met at Emerson College in Boston and, even early on, did some equally bizarre/captivating  work.)

There is impressive art direction to be found in scenes where Hank constructs full-size dioramas of scenes purportedly from Manny’s previous life.

The film is composed of quality ingredients…but I simply did not enjoy watching the final product.

I understand that the Kwan and Scheinert were looking to make the audience uncomfortable. I’m not opposed to that. Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse and Harmony Korine’s Gummo are two squirmy favorites.

This one did not click with me.

That Being Said…

I appreciate the originality of Swiss Army Man. Yes, it has shades of other concepts woven throughout, however, it is a thoroughly original creation.

While this particular film didn’t connect with me, it undoubtedly did so with the good people at Sundance, as Kwan and Scheinert were awarded the Best Directing Award at the 2016 edition of the festival.

I can’t argue with that.

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