“Swiss Army Man” Is A Farrelly Brothers Masked As A Inarritu Flick

By Scott Kurland

Film: Swiss Army Man
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Rated R
Director: Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Independent film making is truly a bizarre beast. Sometimes you get weird, experimental dark comedies that you don’t completely understand until you wake up at 2 am going “Oh I get it.” Other times you get heartfelt character studies about love, life, and family issues. At the 2016 Sundance film festival this year, a film premiered that was met with two reactions. One response was a rave review for originality, while the other involved audience members storming out in disgust ten minutes into the movie. The film in question is this week’s movie “Swiss Army Man” starring Paul Dano and blockbuster-king-turned-indie-darling Daniel Radcliffe. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

“Swiss Army Man” begins with Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a deserted island. Hank appears to be disheveled and a complete mess of a man. Hank’s about to end it all by hanging himself, when he finds Manny (Daniel Radcliffe); a dead body that washes up on shore. Hank uses Manny’s body, and it's flatulence, as a motor boat to get off the island. Once on land, Hank discovers Manny is magical corpse that comes to life; one that can be used like a Swiss Army knife to help him survive the wilderness. As they make their way back to civilization, both Hank and Manny discover what humanity and life really is.

As a critic I tend to read other writer’s reviews to get their insight. One reviewer of this film described  it as: “if Terrence Malick directed ‘Weekend At Bernies’”. This is an accurate description, though I’d take it a step further and call it “Neil Simon’s Castaway” with Dano as Oscar and Radcliffe as a deceased Felix. This is a beautiful film that navigates the line between realism and fantasy. We never get an answer as to whether Manny is real or simply one of Hank's delusions. The directors (a.k.a The Daniels) paint such a wonderful picture of life, friendship, and love.  The first 90 minutes of this movie is one of the greatest buddy comedies since “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” and it's all due to the chemistry of Dano and Radcliffe.

A few years ago, Daniel Radcliffe made a wonderful film with Paul Dano’s partner Zoe Kazan. That film was called “What If,” and it showcased his chemistry with Kazan. Now, Radcliffe shows us he’s got great chemistry with the other half of this power couple. Radcliffe and Dano as Manny and Hank are like a dream team. They begin as friends, then brothers, and, at last, finish as one entity. These are two actors who really  get their roles. They truly understand that Manny and Hank are in sync 100% and, when it’s just Dano and Radcliffe, the movie is so whimsical and tremendous. Dano is this very reserved straight-man while Radcliffe as a corpse is the perfect comic foil. I would love to see these two pair up together for every movie, and pay full price every time.

My only real critique of this film was that I found the last ten minutes of this film disappointing; so disappointing in fact that it received a lesser grade (it started out as an A). The finale is where reality begins to set in. The duo leave their magical woods and end up in the real world. As soon as they meet other people like Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, I was genuinely sad. It might be because I knew that the film was coming to an end, or it might be that certain truths about the characters were revealed that I could have done without. Still, this is a wonderful film that can easily replace raunch fest films like “That’s My Boy” or  basically anything with Adam Sandler.

“Swiss Army Man” is a beautiful albeit twisted fairy tale about friendship and solitude that proves even independent films can be hysterically fun from time to time. This is a film that’s in limited release, but will open to more theaters later in the summer. Do yourself a favor and see this bizarre little gem. This is the best surprise of the summer so far.

scott kurlandComment