Thursday, July 7, 2016

Movie Review: "Swiss Army Man" (2016)

© A24

If ever there was a time in your life that you said to yourself, "I wish I could watch Harry Potter's lifeless body regurgitate fresh drinking water like a spigot to save a man's life," then this is the movie for you. You may also need to seek some help. Swiss Army Man is undoubtedly the curious byproduct of Cast Away and Weekend at Bernie's having a weird love triad with Daniel Quinn's Ishmael—if all of them shared a curious fetish for whoopie cushions. Directors Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan (so many Daniels in this) have a sick and exhilarating sense of humor, and what makes their vision here so special is that it's not for nothing. Moreover, it's not expected summer fare; a movie that makes you think, and feel, and tear up through your laughs. The comedy is an avenue for the philosophical, and vice versa, as we witness the life-reviving effects of love, and the debilitating fear of living, through the eyes of two dudes trying to figure it all out. With flaming farts.

Hank (Paul Dano) has been stranded on a desert island, and he's—quite literally—at the end of his rope. Right before ending it all, he finds a gurgling corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) has washed ashore his beach, and its mere presence gives Hank the inspiration to plan his escape from imminent death. That, and the fact that the corpse's continuous flatulence holds the power to motoring the two of them straight through the crashing waves. As Hank dead-lifts his new friend (pun intended) through the forest in search of help, something happens: the corpse, who we learn goes by Manny, starts to move. And talk; and think; and display plenty of other mysterious abilities. As Manny's water-logged mind develops, his child-like questions about life and love prompt Hank to reexamine his own existence, and the two discover through one another a joy and reverence for life.

There are more than a few moments that really need to remain secrets. This isn't a heavy "reveal" movie with loads of gasping Oh my gods or Whaaaaat??s... Rather, the development of this friendship, along with Manny's inquisitive hopefulness, worry, and imagination, create a magnificent and touching story that simply needs to be experienced. That being said, it's also littered with truly disturbing imagery as Manny the corpse is basically abused and mutilated, but that's all tampered with soaring music by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, not to mention the fact that the corpse itself doesn't really mind. None of the jarring shots of impalements, guttings, or bone crackings last longer than a quick edit, which is a true testament to the sharply carved out structure and pacing. You can honestly get away with anything if you commit to the rules up front.

This is Daniel Radcliffe's best role (on screen) to date. It's well known how cool and laid back a guy he is, and so it's no wonder he fell into this role so perfectly. Physically, he contorts and pushes his body in ways that I'd normally be totally unsettled by (when his convincing body double isn't in the shot), but like the abuse he goes through at the hands of Hank, none of the horror ever really breeches through. Radcliffe is simply too wide-eyed and bushy-tailed to make it anything other than uplifting. Likewise, Dano was right at home in this quirky, mentally unstable world. His performance didn't surprise me the way that Radcliffe's did, but it was equally as commanding, and for much of the film, it's Hank's personality and creativeness that make this such a triumph.

I hesitate to say too much, because I genuinely think this movie has a little bit for everybody, even those who turn their nose up at the hoity-toity indie stuff. Swiss Army Man is a happy marriage between high- and low-brow—without much in between. In the end, we're left with an appropriately ambiguous and sentimental buddy adventure that is also a study in societal behaviors, albeit through an absurd lens. And while there are twinges of existential sadness, you're never far away from a punchline. Usually one with a fart.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars

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