One of the best films of the year.
The director duo known simply as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) pitched Swiss Army Man to star Paul Dano quite succinctly: the first fart will make you laugh, the last will make you cry. That statement perfectly encapsulates what makes Swiss Army Man so special. Who knew that the film focused on a farting corpse would be one of the most genuine, heartfelt, and personal movies of the year.
The film opens with Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a deserted island, alone at the end of his rope (literally). With a noose around his neck and one step off a cooler being the only thing that separates him from death, Hank is prepared to end it. That is until he sees the corpse of Daniel Radcliffe wash up on shore. Hank hesitates and accidentally slips off the cooler. Luckily the rope breaks free and Hank proceeds to investigate the corpse.
One thing leads to another, and Hank is able to use the corpse as jet ski fueled by flatulence to escape the island. The two end up on the shore of an uncharted forest, and soon enough the corpse begins to speak. Hank learns that his name is Manny and that he can do numerous wonderful things, such as retain excessive amounts of water, ignite his farts with the snap of his fingers, cut through rope with his teeth, and the ability to propel objects from his mouth like a gun. Hank and Manny come to rely on one another as they survive the wilderness, as Manny helps tend to Hank’s basic needs of food and water, while Hank helps to teach Manny the various nuances of life.
The complicated relationship between Hank and Manny is the primary driver of the movie, and it is so delightful to experience. What makes their relationship work so well is how organically it evolves over the course of the film. At first, it’s an obvious parent/child dynamic between Hank and Manny, as Hank teaches Manny simple concepts of life such as “everybody poops” to more complex ones like love and sex. Manny starts as a blank slate, and Hank helps to mold him as a person. As Manny matures, so does his relationship with Hank, as they adjust from their parental dynamic to more of a best friend type of relationship to even a romantic one. It’s very fluid, and the way Daniels play with that ambiguity of their relationship makes it that much more engaging.
With such an odd and unusual concept, this film could have easily crashed and burned. This film lives and dies by its two leads, and luckily both Dano and Radcliffe are fantastic and have amazing chemistry with one another. Dano’s Hank is a lovable outsider, a character who represents the weirdo we all have within us, and the way he portrays his various insecurities as he tries to pass on life lessons to Manny is so great.
Dano is so dynamic as Hank, as one moment we’ll be laughing with Hank, another we’ll feel sympathetic, and other rare times Dano will make us feel discomfort. Swiss Army Man doesn’t ignore the underlying darkness of Hank engaging with a corpse, as it leaves you with a sense of ambiguity questioning whether Manny is actually a magical corpse, or if Hank is simply having an insane fever dream. and that gives Dano a lot to work with.
The real standout of this dynamic duo is Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe brings such an innocent and genuine aura to Manny, playing him with such childlike curiosity that it’s extremely easy to fall in love with him. Radcliffe arguably had the more difficult task of the two, as his acting arsenal was severely limited due to the fact that Manny could hardly move at all. For the majority of the film, Hank can only move his eyes and mouth, which only highlights the subtle nuances Radcliffe gives to the character, and help breath life into a corpse. Who would have thought that a farting corpse would be one of the most dynamic and compelling characters of 2016?
Swiss Army Man tackles a large number themes and concepts: loneliness, unrequited love, betrayal, friendship, sex, and more. That sounds like a lot for one film, but Swiss Army Man handles them with such grace that it’s hard to believe that this is Daniels first feature film. Most of these themes are seen through Manny, as he experiences each of these concepts as he matures through the course of the film. All of it is handled quite tastefully, and it’s heartwarming to see Manny grow as a character. Hank experiences plenty of growth as well, but nowhere near the amount as Manny.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the score. The score is quite simply fantastic and acts almost as a character itself. Daniels implement the music in a way that feels fresh and unique. Sometimes the music will start from Hank and Manning humming a song, and before you know it the music transforms into a beautiful, sweeping score composed by Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull. The music feels so significant and essential to the film’s characters and themes in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Hearing an angelic version of the Jurassic Park theme signify impactful character growth is something I won’t ever forget.
Swiss Army Man is just such a well crafted and original film, that I could go on forever singing its praises. My only real issue with the film is that I felt it stumbled a bit in its final act, but it so quickly corrected itself that it’s hard to hold it against the film. Other than that minor nitpick, I have nothing but positives to say about this film. It’s hilarious, it’s heartwarming, and it’s surprisingly deep. Quite simply put, Swiss Army Man is amazing.