Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known simply as Daniels), Swiss Army Man is the divisive independent film that has certainly stirred up a strong reaction from audiences.
The film opens with Hank (Paul Dano) attempting to commit suicide on the island he’s been marooned on for some time, with only the sight of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), who’s washed ashore, stopping him. Hank quickly discovers that the flatulent corpse is rather useful, using him as a jet ski and a source of water, amongst other things. To Hank’s amazement, Manny starts talking but fails to remember any aspect of being alive, so Hank begins teaching him the concept of life, all the while using his handy functions in an attempt to escape the island.
Along the way, Hank educates Manny on love and what’s socially acceptable (similar to 1984’s Starman, albeit not as touching). Through a phone that’s low on battery, we also delve into more modern social norms, living different lives on social media and even living vicariously through somebody else’s online profile. While tackling deeper discussions, Swiss Army Man doesn’t let up with the juvenile humour it opened with. Gags revolving around flatulence and masturbation are still very much centre stage and although it’s playfully silly and harmless, some audiences clearly haven’t been able to see past this.
Despite differing opinions on the film as a whole, the performances are brilliant. Dano, who has been consistently impressive, most notably in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic There Will Be Blood once again shines. Radcliffe is somehow able to play a corpse with gusto and (without shunning the Harry Potter films that brought him to the dance), has begun redefining himself as a versatile actor who isn’t afraid to take smaller and stranger roles in the process.
Regardless of how deep you read into Swiss Army Man, endearing performances, Larkin Seiple’s striking cinematography and the creative ways in which the soundtrack plays out, prevents the film from being the complete write-off some critics claim it to be. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing future films from the pair of Daniels.
Swiss Army Man is ultimately what you make of it. A comedy filled with toilet humour, a social commentary or as long as you’re open to it, it can work on both levels.