SFF 2016 Review: Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man posterA film that will take a little time to digest for some, while for others it will soar majestically, like so many jet-propelled bodies.

Paul Dano dragging the bloated and farting corpse of Harry Potter through the wilderness is a vision that speaks to the strength of the independent film scene at the moment. Hank (Dano) is stranded on a deserted island, and has decided to end it all. At least until he spots the corpse of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on the shore. Manny doesn’t seem entirely dead though, with his flatulence and other bodily functions imbuing him with remarkable abilities from Hank’s point of view. As the duo make their way back to civilization, Hank teaches Manny about life, but in the process is forced to confront some truths about himself as well.

SWISS ARMY MAN skirts a fine line between its erection and fart jokes and the quest for something more meaningful, and miraculously manages to do so despite the fact that it wastes no time in establishing itself as completely bonkers. If you think of the film as one of those Garfield Minus Garfield comic strips, we have Dano playing a tragic and lonely character who spends much of the film hashing out his own personal issues to an otherwise empty vessel. Yet that’s not what the viewer sees: whether it is inside of Hank’s head or a case of the dead coming back to life through the power of love, the magical realism of the films plays as an unconventional buddy/romantic comedy, but also an occasionally heavy-handed musing on depression and disorder. Except, you know, it has a corpse that provides water, acts as a grappling hook and can start fires. Radcliffe conclusively buries his blockbuster persona is one of the most controlled performances to date, a wire-jawed delivery that forms the same function of the Shakespearean fool, overlooked and discarded but nevertheless speaking a penetrating wisdom. Like Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed, audiences are asked to go along for the ride but continuously question, and as the constant references to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park imply, we should also be prepared to believe in the impossible.

2016 | US | DIR: DANIELS (Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert) | WRITERS: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert | CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead | DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes | RATING: ★★★¾ (7.5/10)