Swiss Army Man, 2016.
Written and Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.
Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.
Just a quick disclaimer – everything described in this review, no matter how phantasmagorical and jaw-dropping it might seem, is completely true. It really is very hard to even try and deliver any reasonable explanation to what actually happens in Swiss Army Man, as there are only two adjectives that surface to mind after watching the film – it is extremely ‘weird’ and very much ‘insane’.
But in all fairness, what else could we expect from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a collective mostly commonly known as Daniels), who were the masterminds behind such TV shorts as My Best Friend’s Wedding/My Best Friend’s Sweating, Broomshakalaka and Tides of the Heart/Swingers? It would be naïve to even suppose that Daniels would do a 360 and harness their lunacy into generic sleazy rom-coms or action films brimming with masculine energy.
With Swiss Army Man, Kwan and Scheinert do not hold back and certainly do not apologise for their beautiful madness. The collective is a rare breed of directors, in the same ranks as Gaspar Noe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Nicolas Winding Refn, who still possess that childhood infatuation with the world of wonder and fantasy, and who have enough gut to spellbindingly marshal that into their films.
Judging from the reaction at this year’s Sundance, it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea as some people from the audience left half way through the film. But this is what you get when you lay your weirdness out on the table in front of thousands of people – conventional narratives are ingrained a little bit too firmly in people’s heads in order for them to appreciate any deviation from the norm. But if you really give Swiss Army Man a chance, you surely will be left in complete enchanted over Daniels’ wild tale of bizarre and wonderful.
Paul Dano’s character Hank gets deserted on an island and he is ready to put an end to his predicament by putting his head inside a noose. Suddenly he sees a body washed ashore that gives him hope that it could be someone that will keep him company.
Yet his expectations vanish very quickly when he discovers that his new companion is no one else but a flatulent corpse. Not drifting into too much despair, Hank calls his corpse-friend Manny and uses his gassiness to his advantage, transforming him into a gas-powered jet ski. As they reach a mysterious chunk of mainland, Manny suddenly comes to life and his functions get stretched far beyond any of Hank’s expectations when he discovers that his newly-found friend is also a great water fountain and a navigation lever.
Kwan and Scheinert have decided to dedicate the second part of the film to an overarching topic of ‘What do Young Men Talk About When They Are Left Alone’. As you can easily guess, the conversation between Hank and Manny do not rise that far beyond the traditional drama of unrequited love, masturbation, selfish parents and loneliness. Two friends build a make-shift paradise, where they recreate the world outside devoid of any real life affliction. Hank gets to re-live his sad and lonely present with a dedicated friend by his side, who does not judge or tells him off. For the first time ever Hank gets to experience the joie de vivre like he never felt before, where for the first time he is confident enough to chat up a girl on the school bus or stand up to his father.
This is a great instance of a sweet bromance without any unnecessary egos and competitiveness. It is so endearing to watch Hank and Manny as they build ‘A Brave New World’ from pieces of carton, newspaper and old magazine cut-outs, allowing themselves to indulge in the basic human need of interaction and compassion. Swiss Army Man portrays a nomad land where life is stripped to the bare minimum yet which still seems so magical and full of wonder because how easy it is to sometimes forget what is truly valuable in our lives.
The film can seem entangled a bit too much in its pursue of all things strange and quirky, and the second part of the film can get a little bit tedious when the initial wonder-shock of its unorthodox plot starts to wear off. Yet Daniels provide a one unique take on the state of being a secluded and depressed teenager, and you can only admire and praise their bravery for staying true to their vision. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are insanely good as Hank and Manny, showcasing a full appreciation and for the directors’ insanity and embracing it to its core. Daniel Radcliffe has finally perfected his American accent and, as funny as it might seem, does a stellar acting job being a human boat. Swiss Army Man can be a lot to take in all at once but it is exactly that missing splash of cinematic madness what we have been anticipating for so long.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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