by David Minkus
It seems like there’s a never ending amount of complaining that Hollywood is out of ideas and is incapable of putting anything original on the silver screen. If you’re only talking about the mega-blockbuster releases and endless superhero properties being translated to the big and small screens, you may have a point. However, if you’re willing to take a chance, you might just stumble across a wonderful and bizarre curiosity with unexpected emotional depth like Swiss Army Man.
Hank (Paul Dano), a hopeless young man literally at the end of his rope on a deserted island, finds himself rescued by a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) and the excess of flatulence stored up in his body. Once back to land, they embark on a journey to find home and themselves.
To really say anything else about the plot would give away important points and rob the film of its magnificent eccentricity. Before getting to extoling the films numerous virtues, it’s important to address one very important caveat. If you are comfortable with a frank discussion of uncomfortable topics like flatulence and…self-love, you have a truly remarkable and unique cinematic experience ahead of you. If those kinds of things turn you off to a film, though, it’s safe to say you should probably skip it altogether.
Starting with the two leads, Dano and Radcliffe have a striking chemistry that makes me hope they make more films together in the future. Hank trying to teach Manny about being human again while figuring out what that very idea means to him is a beautiful plot thread that is always present in the film. There’s as much humor and hope as there is heartbreak and despair running through the film that keeps the audience engaged and emotionally invested.
Manchester Orchestra front man Andy Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell have put together a haunting and beautiful acapella score unlike anything heard before and possibly ever to be heard again. The complete lack of instruments lends an authenticity to Hank’s journey where he’s essentially singing to himself. To add a full orchestra or any instrumentation frankly would have distracted from the power of the story.
Finally, I can’t even begin to say how much I respect and admire Daniels for taking on such an ambitious story and making an emotionally compelling and gripping film that takes such an unconventional path. What could have been bogged down in juvenile humor and gross-out jokes is elevated to a level I couldn’t have imagined. Leaving the film’s story in such an uncomfortable and real world place at the end was truly a daring move that I love increasingly the more I think about it. The gorgeous cinematography and set design is absolutely perfect for the tone of the film and make for a one-of-a-kind tapestry that elevates the film to becoming true art.
I generally don’t bring up studios specifically, but it can’t be ignored that this is yet another film that fits in perfectly with the rest of A24 Films’ brilliant catalog that includes modern classics like Ex Machina, The Witch and Green Room. As far as I’m concerned, this studio has hit my list to check out pretty much anything they put out.
Swiss Army Man is a film that digs into what it means to face our humanity and even our death while bringing epic amounts of flatulence and all manner of uncomfortable topics. It’s completely unflinching in its exploration and doesn’t hesitate to find the joy in life at the same time. I’m generally hesitant to call a film a triumph, but this is exactly the kind of film we need in cinemas and movie houses all over the country.