Swiss Army Man begins with Hank (Paul Dano) about to hang himself, a corpse washing upon shore, and lots and lots of farting. The movie is, in short, a story of friendship between a stranded man and a corpse. This corpse, named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), has special bodily abilities that have the capacity to help Hank find civilization again.
The film initially holds a tone, and some early shots, that are reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s more subdued works. It is quirky, endearing, and strangely blunt. However, as the film progresses it becomes apparent that this is a film with an authorial stamp of its own.
Radcliffe is fascinating as the deadpan human tool. Manny’s lack of worldview makes up much of what makes the film a viable indie comedy. It is a transformative role, droll but distinctly alive. It is perhaps Radcliffe’s best performance of his still young career. Dano, too, is illuminating as a man desperate to see humanity again, if even just to catch a glimpse of a woman he has fancied from afar.
The pair make for a strange duo, equal parts uncomfortable and compatible together. One scene of the film, taking place on a constructed bus in the woods, is one of the most human scenes in cinema this year. It taps into reality while simultaneously being original and otherworldly. It also highlights the chemistry of the two leads.
Accompanied with scenes like these are scenes of a more juvenalian sort, as in a monologue heralding the beauty and merits of masturbation. They are scenes not as eloquently put as the bus scene, but the film needs this juvenile bent. The film thrives on the innocence that comes through as a result. It is the naivety of delusion, told as though it were a childish fantasy.
As with all delusions, the fantasy is easily smashed back down to earth. Where the dark turn of this film may seem like a tonal misfire creatively, it seems to perfectly fit the fantasy at the heart of the film.
Swiss Army Man is something different. It takes a chance at the unique and succeeds at tapping into the heart-warmth and childlike wonder of hope itself. While not completely refined on a level of script or cinema, it is bolstered by two lead performances that are captivating.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)