Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
In the midst of the Harry Potter popularity, if someone had told me my favorite Daniel Radcliffe film was going to be one in which he played a farting corpse, I would have called them a liar. But, here we are. It is 2017 and last year Daniel Radcliffe starred in Swiss Army Man alongside Paul Dano in which he plays a rotting, farting corpse, and I loved it. It sounds like the kind of film a second grade boy would come up with, and yet it surprisingly manages to be so much deeper than gross, body humor. The film is an exploration of friendship and loneliness, growing up in spite of childhood traumas, and realizing its ok to be weird.
The film opens with Paul Dano’s character, Hank, alone on some island. There’s no explanation given to why he is on this island other than he ran away from his life. As he stands ready with a noose around his neck, prepared to kill himself, he sees a body wash up on the shore. Hank approaches the body and sees it’s someone who is already dead. When Hank examines the body he realizes he could use it as a tool to get back to the mainland, and back to society. The two make it back to the mainland, but they must also trek through the woods in order to make it to civilization. During an overnight stay in a cave, Hank realizes the corpse (known as Manny) is more special than he realized, and Manny becomes a greater companion than Hank could have imagined. As the two make their way back to society, Hank teaches Manny about the real world, what it means to be weird, and what love is. It’s a bizarre story, with a surprising amount of heart and depth.
Swiss Army Man is a first feature length film for writing/directing team Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and it is an impressive first film. It acts like a buddy, road trip film with hints of Weekend at Bernie’s. A majority of the humor is exactly what one would expect from a film where a farting corpse is one of the main characters. It’s infantile and disgusting, but the film has a level of charm that in most cases manages to surpass some of the more infantile scenes. As Hank makes his way through the woods and describes the world to Manny, he discovers reasons that life is worth living, and learns a lot about himself in the process. I like to think that the film was largely about growing up. With every conversation Hank has with Manny, he discovers a lot about himself, and it almost pushes him away from an infantile level of maturity to an adult understanding of the world. During this progression in Hank’s own understanding of the film, a lot of the fart, boner, and bodily function jokes slowly disappear.
Throughout the film, this idea that Hank is discovering more about himself and how life works remains fairly consistent, it’s when he comes out of the woods with Manny when the film starts to fall apart. It is as if the writer and director could not decide how they truly wanted the film to end. I found the last 15-20 minutes of the film to be inconsistent with the rest of the film. The ending makes it unclear whether or not Manny was able to have thoughts or feelings or talk with Hank, which weakens Hank working out his own emotional problems through this farting corpse. Without spoiling too much, the film could have ended with Hank in the back of the ambulance, and the audience would have hope that Hank learned more about himself, and his newly found confidence to try life again. Instead, the film adds in extra plot about Hank maybe being crazy and wanting to keep his new friend Manny around.
Swiss Army Man, in spite of its flaws, manages to be a fun, and enjoyable film. If you can look past all of the fart and boner jokes, there’s a compelling story about a man trying to figure himself out and reignite a passion for life. It features one of the greatest on screen bromances I’ve seen in a long time, and Daniel Radcliffe as Manny is the funniest thing I’ve seen him do. He does whatever he can to make this corpse heartwarming, and funny, and interesting all at the same time. Paul Dano and Mary Elizabeth Winstead play very similar characters to every other film they’re in, but that doesn’t diminish their acting. I could not imagine any other actors in their roles. Even if you can’t get past the gross humor, the soundtrack is incredible. Swiss Army Man is a beautiful example of what indie cinema can offer the rest of the world, and I will be interested to see how Dan Kwan and Dan Scheinert move forward in their careers from here.