Directors: Daniel Scheinert / Daniel Kwan
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Swiss Army Man. Where to start? I’m not entirely sure, and that how I felt as I watched the movie – though more through joyful abandonment than any kind of pessimism. The movie is a constant stream of bizarreness, yet manages to be endearing through it all.
The story of a man who has had enough of life, then befriends a corpse and goes on a life journey with him (taking in parties, dinner dates, bus rides and bears), all in the hope of finding his dream girl who doesn’t actually know him – it’s a strange premise but strangely, it works. Built upon fart gags, masturbation talk and the lust for an unknown woman, the movie is as puerile as it is charming, and it all seems as if the crude stylings fit into perfect place
It also subverts the mystery guy gets girl trope, by having the object of Hank’s desire, Sarah (Winstead), think he’s nothing more than a creep.
Built on two brilliant performances – the hopeful pathos of Hank and the masterfully controlled rebirth of Manny – the film delivers (it doesn’t bear thinking how badly this movie may have turned out in the hands of lesser talents) on a buddy type level, the two becoming great friends as their journey progresses. Dano is dependably good in the role of the man who has nothing yet is striving for something, sensitive and thick-skinned at the same time, it’s a great one man train of a performance. Radcliffe is a marvel as Manny, the level of control over face and body must have been hellish to tame, but his physical performance is just as good as his naïve-to-mature vocal performance. The role of Manny seems to follow the life cycle – beginning with nothing, slowly learning words and motions, rudimentary sentences, followed by the onset of ‘puberty’ and associated feelings, more adult conversations and finally acceptance of our fate – it’s a very clever device for what seemingly began as a windy corpse.
Also, Hank looks remarkably like a hobbit during the movie!
The movie is propelled along by the score – co-written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell – with most of the songs stemming from the humming of Dano or Manny, including the Jurassic Park theme and segments of Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe. Starting off as nothing more than a hum, the music would then grow into a fully-fledged song, swelling as it unfolds.
I think it’s fair to say that Swiss Army Man will not be to everyone’s tastes, but give it a try and let it take over, it’s more fun than it initially sounds. The lead performances drive the narrative expertly and there’s enough underneath the madness to keep it engaging. For me, it’s a big win.
The movie’s final line sums up the experience in a brutal, honest nutshell – “what the fuck?”
December 6th 2016