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Swiss Army Man

The first few minutes of Swiss Army Man are, taken by themselves, a perfect little short film. A man (Paul Dano) stranded on an island is in the process of hanging himself, when he sees something wash up on the shore in front of him. It’s a man (Daniel Radcliffe) – the first human being he’s seen in who knows how long. But the man is dead, so Dano goes back to ending his own life. And then the corpse becomes… flatulent.  Violently. And an idea strikes Dano. In triumph, he rides the flatulent corpse like a jet ski across the ocean and back to civilization.

The rest of the film can’t live up to the economy, humor and density of those first few scenes, but that doesn’t mean it’s by any means a bad movie. Hank (Dano) and Manny (Radcliffe) end up on another shore, and begin the search for signs of humans.  All they find are garbage. Hank discovers that Manny (who, I should mention, is still dead) has amazing abilities beyond his propulsive farts. His mouth shoots an endless stream of water. His teeth can open cans. And his erection has certain compass-like properties. And then he starts to talk, and serves as anything everything Hank needs him to be – he remembers nothing, so Hank teaches him how the world works. And they throw parties together, and swoon for a particular girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstad) together, and, in essence, the corpse provides Hank a way to talk about his feelings, his disappointments, and his dreams.

It’s a genuinely funny movie, and I’m not just saying that because I like fart jokes. Radcliffe shows that he has a gift for physical comedy, and the chemistry between the two leads is fantastic. Dano and Radcliffe are both fully committed to this kooky premise, and that helps the movie immensely. Paul Dano has always seemed to be on a different wavelength from the rest of the world, and picks projects that play to that strength — from Looper to Love & Mercy. Radcliffe’s bright-eyed, innocent face are what got him cast as Harry Potter; they’re also what makes this farting corpse seem relatable. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in these roles.

Swiss Army Man finds a delicate balance between the sweetness of its themes — which amount to “let your freak flag fly”   and the vulgarity with which they are delivered. It’s a movie about accepting yourself and believing that you are lovable, as weird and awkward as you are. And that would feel terribly Pollyana if it didn’t illustrate that by talking about farts. “Why are we ashamed of farts? Literally everything living on this planet farts. It’s the silliest thing to be ashamed of.” (A good pairing with this movie would be A Bigger Splash, which I reviewed a few months ago: Ralph Fiennes’ character in that movie takes Hank’s musings in this one to their logical, and repulsive, conclusion.) The balancing act goes both ways; without the sweetness of the themes, the fart jokes would just feel juvenile.

 

 

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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