Black comedy-drama about a suicidal man stranded on a desert island, who befriends a talking, farting corpse that washes up on the shore
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Antonia Ribero, Timothy Eulich
Release date: September 30, 2016
Running time: 97 mins
Co-written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (their collective credit reads “A Film by Daniels”), Swiss Army Man premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it quickly became known as “the movie where Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse”.
As such, it would be easy to dismiss the film based on its ridiculous premise (there were multiple walk-outs at Sundance) and indeed, it’s fair to say it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with a surprisingly moving and very funny black comedy that cleverly blends the profound and the puerile.
Paul Dano plays Hank, a suicidal man who’s stranded on a desert island. While in the act of hanging himself, he spots a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) that has washed up on the beach and swiftly discovers that the body’s frequent, powerful farts are strong enough to propel him across the water, like a jet-ski.
Upon reaching the forest-strewn mainland, Hank is shocked to discover that the corpse, who he names Manny, can speak, and the pair begin a bizarre friendship in which Hank tries to rehabilitate Manny by teaching him about life, and Manny, in turn gives Hank a reason to live.
There’s a point to the puerility
Radcliffe continues his impressive run of post-Potter performances with an outstanding turn as Manny, combining deadpan comic delivery with commendably committed physicality, not just in Manny’s frequently fixed rictus expressions, but also in the sheer number of corpse-related indignities his character undergoes.
Dano is adept at playing introverted outsiders and he excels here, generating remarkable chemistry with Radcliffe as their relationship unfolds.
The increasingly weird script (the farting corpse boat is just the beginning) initially seems fixated on bodily functions, and you start to worry that the film will wear out its welcome, but there’s a point to the puerility and the Daniels (Radcliffe included) ultimately make a convincing argument for such things being the stuff of life.
Even if you don’t totally buy into the film’s disarmingly sweet central message, there’s plenty to enjoy in the consistently inventive direction, which frequently recalls the work of Michel Gondry, as Hank discovers a multitude of uses for Manny (as the title indicates), including wood-chopper, compass, catapult, water-holder and flame-thrower-slash-bear repellent.
Similarly, the writing remains refreshingly unpredictable right up to the end, particularly in the final act, when we learn more about the mysterious woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Hank keeps a photo of on his nearly-dead phone.
Wildly imaginative, emotionally engaging and laugh-out-loud funny, this is undoubtedly one of the strangest films of the year, given must-see status by Radcliffe’s extraordinary performance.
Swiss Army Man is in cinemas now