Directors: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe Running Time: 97 minutes
To know the premise of Swiss Army Man may detract from the wonder and bewilderment of going into it unawares, but on the other hand, describing it is almost a sufficient review itself, so here goes. Paul Dano is stranded on a tiny island and about to kill himself, when he notices a bloated corpse washed up on the shore, played by Daniel Radcliffe. He proceeds to use the body’s flatulence as propulsion and rides it like a jet ski to freedom and as he journies through the forest he ends up in, begins talking to it. And drinking from it. And using its erection as a compass. So now you know either that you never need to see Swiss Army Man or that you have to see if it lives up to its ludicrous premise. It does.
Directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, credited as “Daniels”, have managed to make a film somehow much less juvenile than it sounds while still managing to push its audacity further than can be imagined. As the title suggests, Radcliffe’s farting boner corpse turns out to have many uses, not just as transport and navigation, but a shaving kit, a weapon, a grappling gun and a confidante. Though it seems at first as though Radcliffe is going to lay around limp for the entire film, he soon starts talking back to travel partner Hank. As it turns out, ‘Manny’ the dead body, with no memories of his life, is the perfect outlet for Dano to project his hangups onto. Hank’s teachings about life reveal just how lost he was in his own one and how much he struggles to connect with others.
The unendingly game performances by Dano and Radcliffe keep the film going long after the shock value has worn off. Dano is wide-eyed and sympathetic while always maintaining the subtlest hints of madness (talking to the dead notwithstanding) ). Hank is shaded in as repressed, pitiable and perhaps a bit of a creep. He’s the seedy underbelly of the lonely dramedy leading man, particularly as his relationship with the girl of his memories and phone wallpaper, the pedestaled Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is unveiled. Meanwhile Manny may be the peak of Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter try-anything attitude, showcasing his knack for comedic timing and physical comedy. Radcliffe’s big asset as a performer is his enthusiasm, which shines through here even as he downplays be necessity. His simple nature even manages to garner sympathy for what’s supposed to be the figment of another character’s imagination. The two may make for the best buddy pairing at the cinema this year, especially as their relationship manages to get even weirder.
There comes a point where Swiss Army seems to be getting cosy in its concept, as the duo bond in the woods, learn life lessons and haphazardly contribute to the film’s catchy score of half-remembered hums and mumbles. Just as it seems to be getting too comfortable, everything is upended and the truth about Dano’s situation is thrust into uncomfortable light, before shifting back again and committing triumphantly to ridiculousness. Swiss Army Man successfully balances being an emotional examination of loneliness and what happens when we’re forced to ask the questions we try to bury deep down, with being a comedy about a farting dead body. It is exactly what it wants to be and, if you’re not put off by the very idea of it, unmissable.