Swiss Army Man (2016) Review


Director(s): Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Plot: At the verge of suicide, Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself in the presence of the farting corpse of ‘Manny’ (Daniel Radcliffe) that causes him to go on a journey of self-discovery.

Review: Coming off a colourful resume, particularly their bonkers “Turn Down for What” music video, writer-director duo Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – referred to as The Daniels – have managed to craft both a ludicrous film and something that is simultaneously deep, or perhaps, too deep. The kind of film that defies expectations, no matter what it may be, Swiss Army Man exceeds it. Expecting a low brow comedy? That’s partly what SAM is, and more. Expecting a philosophical, deeply meditative film that deconstructs the meaning of life and the state of being alive? That’s partly what SAM IS, and more. In a sense, this gleaming aspect of SAM is both a blessing and a curse.

Being so out there as an indie film, Swiss Army Man is already at a disadvantage, as it is a zany film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible and recognized for what it is, but clearly won’t. The subject matter, going as low brow as possible when the act of farting becomes an important recurring plot device, is the definition of surface level storytelling, with the nuance of the film’s – and lead characters’ – existential crises functioning as the layers of the film, with not many being able to stomach the humor to see where the filmmakers will take them. As brilliantly bizarre the film is, SAM goes against the norm of contemporary cinema so much that it exemplifies the film’s subject matter; the weird, lonely outliers of society.

Opening with the talented Paul Dano attempting to kill himself as Hank, and his subsequent introduction to the farting corpse of Daniel Radcliffe’s ‘Manny’, Swiss Army Man takes the viewer on a journey of self-discovery, for all the parties involved, as Hank’s utilization of Manny corpse as a multi-purpose tool akin to a Swiss Army Knife somehow reanimates the formerly deceased Harry Potter-looking bloated cadaver, or does it? The Daniels are ambiguous with the exact nature of Manny’s ‘revival’, instead focusing on giving the runaway, depressed, lonely Hank a friend for the first time in his life, setting the stage for an adventure unlike anything ever seen in film.

Scored and written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of the Manchester Orchestra band, from the orchestral intro, to a montage of Hank and Manny throwing a party in the woods at night, Swiss Army Man’s music is the kind that rarely graces the film medium, especially in this day and age of booming Hans Zimmer-esque temp music. Rounding off the Daniels’ perfect feature length directorial debut with the off-kilter premise, the surreal music, and dreamscape cinematography of Larkin Seiple, are the career defining performances by Dano and Radcliffe, each worthy of Oscar nominations, in their own right. But alas, as mentioned previously, Swiss Army Man is the kind of film that goes against the norm of contemporary cinema, and in the prehistoric, prudish eyes of the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), SAM is the weird introverted kid furthest away from the crowd of extroverts the Academy has shown to repeatedly favour.

Rating: S!