Swiss Army Man (2016)

  • Time: 95 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
  • Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano


Hank, stranded on a deserted island and about to kill himself, notices a corpse washed up on the beach. He befriends it, naming it Manny, only to discover that his new friend can talk and has a myriad of supernatural abilities…which may help him get home.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)


    IN BRIEF: An odd pairing produces an even odder film that works very well due to its lead actors.
    GRADE: B

    SYNOPSIS: A lonely castaway befriends a corpse.

    JIM’S REVIEW: There have always been odd couples in the history of movies: Felix and Oscar, Harold and Maude, Hans Solo and Chewbacca, Thelma and Louise. Yet I cannot think of a more bizarre coupling than Hank (Paul Dano) and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) in the dramedy by directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan called Swiss Army Man.

    Stranded and alone on a deserted island for some time, Hank is ready to end his isolated existence. Until a dead body washed up on shore. It’s Manny, aptly named by Hank, who becomes his guiding force and friend. Manny manifests into Hank’s survival multi-tool in many ways…camaraderie, a physical compass (more on that later), a gun, an unique method of travel (even more later). As their days spend together continue, so does this bromance with benefits.

    Now Manny is not the best mannered buddy, rotting and filled with gas that releases itself whenever the mood arises, which is often. The flatulence jokes are non-stop, never more central than when Hank uses his dead buddy as a jet ski. A funny sight gag but not that surprising. At one point, Manny’s erect penis serves as a compass. Well, that I must admit, was a surprise!

    Now, we know from the first scene that this relationship exists in the eternal sunshine of Hank’s mind. And after accepting that fact, the moviegoer needs to also feel the connection between the pair and their plight. So the casting of the two leads is essential to make this concept work and their both actors’ partnership shows off a wonderful bond.

    Mr. Dano shows a vulnerability and poignancy as Hank, a loner who is now forced to be alone. Mr. Radcliffe has the physically more demanding role as the dead man walking and he plays his part as a man-child just beginning to learn about life itself. Both actors are superb in their roles and should be admired for continuing to take on challenging parts.

    The film is very well directed and presents well-written characters of which one truly cares. The Daniels (as they are billed) create a wonderful lyrical beauty in their film as the castaways philosophically debate life with all their insightful conversations. Particularly poetic is a lovely segment on a make-shift bus as Hank and Manny question the merits of love. The music score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell blends beautifully with the visual look of the film and Matthew Hannam’s editing sets the perfect lyrical tone.

    The mood of the film is slightly erratic, switching from silly comedy and slapstick while ending with an underlying pathos that is almost as schizophrenic as Hank’s state of mind. Yet it works. That is until the film reaches its unsatisfying conclusion, one of those never-ending endings in which the viewer must decide the outcome. Instead of bringing together all the delightfully absurd surreal moments to a logical outcome, Swiss Army Man just adds more questions without any suitable answer.

    Still the film is loaded with imaginative ideas, unlike most films today. even if editing some of these concepts would have only enhanced the result. Granted, this movie is a hard sell from the start, as marketing proves. The overall audience has to have the same strange attraction to the subject and the average moviegoing audience are not the target. The mix of quirky humor, raunchy subject, sophomoric sex jokes, and non-stop flatulence can wear one down. But there is enough originality and cleverness to mask the limits of this endeavor due to fine directing and top-notch performances by the two talented actors involved.

    Swiss Army Man remains sharp and just as versatile as its namesake.

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  • Weirdness, wackiness and whimsicality permeate Swiss Army Man, the feature film debut of music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels. Undeniably inventive – what film in recent memory, if ever, has combined flatulence and existentialism – it also loses steam quite quickly and runs on empty for most of its 97-minute running time.

    Cast Away meets Weekend at Bernie’s is a simple but apt description for Swiss Army Man. The film begins on an island, deserted but for 20-something Hank (Paul Dano), whose suicide attempt is interrupted by the appearance of a random corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) on the beach. The body, soon named “Manny,” proves itself a genie of sorts, granting Hank’s needs in the most unexpected of ways. Take Manny’s gaseous emissions, which are so powerfully eruptive that Hank is able to ride him like a jet ski away from the island.

    The two wind up on a more forested shore, where Hank discovers some of Manny’s other “powers” such as being able to use his erection as a compass and the ability to be a human drinking fountain, spewing forth a stream of water when his chest is pushed. Yet Manny also acts as a springboard for Hank to reflect upon his life, specifically on the fact that he didn’t seem to have much of one. There’s a great deal of chatter about Hank being an outsider, someone who behaved differently, or at least was made to behave in a way that was socially acceptable. For all the film’s fascination with the body as the most unholy of temples with all its disgusting excretions, the underlying message is that there’s no reason to be ashamed of who you essentially are. Or, as one scrawl in a book notes, “Everybody poops.”

    Despite its absurdities, Swiss Army Man also functions as a portrait of delusion, which is why the finale’s literal-mindedness is jarringly out of place. Up until that point, one is never quite sure if Manny is only a figment of Hank’s imagination – or is it derangement? One sequence finds Hank dressing up as a girl and recreating out of bits of rubbish the bus on which he met Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose image is the wallpaper for his nearly-dead cell phone. The lengths to which Hank brings the memory to life is both endearing and deeply alarming, and gives credence to the likelihood that the entire film is one sustained hallucination.

    Though Kwan and Scheinert do a more than admirable job of maintaining the film’s peculiar tone, Swiss Army Man is an ultimately unsatisfying watch. Too much of it is repetitive, most of it is aimless; that said, it does achieve a sort of bizarre, almost transcendent power. The directors deserve a significant amount of the credit as do Dano and Radcliffe, who are wholly committed to their roles. Radcliffe has proven himself time and time again as a game and fearless actor in his post-Harry Potter career; his Manny is a triumph of sorts, not just in terms of physicality but also of the childlike innocence and vulnerability that Radcliffe imbues into the figure of decayed flesh.

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  • “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.”

    If my best friend won’t fart in front of me, what else is he keeping from me?

    Swiss Army Man was labeled by critics as “the farting corpse movie” at Sundance where it received controversial reactions at it’s festival screening. The juvenile humor in the movie prompted walkouts from audience members, but what they missed was the rewarding satisfaction of one of the most insightful explorations of a life some of us may have forgotten.

    Sometimes it takes a flatulent corpse to remind us what it means to be human and why the simpler aspects of life are sometimes the most important. All farting jokes aside, Swiss Army Man is one of the most original movies I’ve seen in a very long time, but some viewers don’t want to give it the time of day.

    The reactions were no surprise to directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka the Daniels) who knew they were fighting an uphill battle with their unusual yet wholly entertaining and original script. They departed Sundance with the Best Directing jury prize and explained, “We like to think of our movies as orphans. They’re bad ideas that no one else wants to make.”

    Weird, wonderful, disgusting, demented and divisive…why pursue this story?

    Swiss Army Man is an unusual fable about Hank (Paul Dano), a suicidal castaway, who befriends a farting corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) while stranded in the wilderness. Together they formulate an unbreakable bond and embark on a surreal journey to get home.

    The indie is directed by the music video duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka Daniels) who became globally recognized with their music video for Lil’ Jon’s Turn Down For What in 2013. The video currently sits at 507,616,752 plays on YouTube and wouldn’t seem like the predecessor for their artistically whacky first feature film.

    While the story may sound offbeat, what makes it work is the combination of music, cinematography and most importantly – Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Our imaginations are stretched when we discover that Manny possesses supernatural powers; he’s a human Swiss Army Knife, but his memory seems to have forgotten the life he once knew. Hank’s two goals are to get them both home and to resurrect Manny’s failing memory of life – both heartwarming and gut-wrenching. They remind us that the little details of life can have the greatest impact and define what it means to be alive.

    Both performances by Dano and Radcliffe are some of the year’s best thus far, but it’s Radcliffe who seems to have captured the heart’s of many critics. Harry Potter who? Radcliffe has graduated from the role that defined him and is proving his worth as an actor.

    IndieWire even boldly argues that Radcliffe deserves an Oscar for his performance (or least an Oscar nod). “Manny’s arc is all on Radcliffe, and it’s an amazing acting achievement. On top of all that, Manny is a role with no map. There’s no archival footage
    to study. No research to rely on, no source material to scour for clues. Just the question: How would a person behave if he awoke in a body with no memories, no movement, and only one friend in the world? Radcliffe’s soft blue eyes grow sad as Manny asks, “If my best friend is hiding his farts from me, what else is he hiding?” With this vulnerable delivery, the Daniels’ dedicatedly silly dialogue packs an emotional wallop that presses tears from moviegoers who were racked with giggles just moments before.”

    This is a polarizing film that some people will love while others will hate it. It’s simply an amazing take on life, loneliness and personal identity. The film stumbles at times trying to be too weird and uncomfortable, which is one of my few gripes about it. Someone pointed out that it’s a film that looks for depth and symbolism where there is none. If you’re shortsighted, you’re not going to catch this film’s beauty, but give it a chance, and you’ll be rewarded.

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