Cinematic Releases: Swiss Army Man (2016) - Reviewed

Michelle reviews the indie darling, Swiss Army Man

In the beginning of Swiss Army Man a desperate shipwrecked man named Hank (Paul Dano) is on the verge of committing suicide when by chance what appears to be another survivor washes up on the shore. This unfortunately turns out to be a bloated gas-filled corpse (Daniel Radcliffe). Thus begins a beautiful friendship that bubbles up to the surface not unlike someone farting in a bathtub. I can sympathize with Hank, because as a film critic, I often feel stranded on a desolate cinematic island filled with nothing but reboots and endless sequels. Much like the flatulence-spewing body (later dubbed "Manny" by Hank) Swiss Army Man came out of nowhere and saved me from my fate of seeing nothing but generic films all this year. Movies like this are what give me life as a cinephile.

I am so wet right now. 

At its heart, Swiss Army Man is a film about friendship and self-discovery with a healthy dose of magical realism to keep things interesting. Manny has special powers that let him help Hank out in his journey to return home, and most of them revolve around his farts. While farts are pretty damn hilarious, in this film not only do they have meaning, they are the core to the entire theme. Farts symbolize emotions that are bottled up and let out in secret for fear of disgusting other people. Passing gas is akin to achieving true freedom and the relationship that develops between Hank and Manny expounds on this idea. The main theme of this film is "release".

It's a two man show for a majority of the film and both Dano and Radcliffe put in moving performances. Radcliff especially knocks it out of the park with a physical presence that is amazing to watch. I mean, he's playing a dead guy, but is still emoting without manually moving his body. Dano is simultaneously manic and vulnerable and both actors take their roles dead (no pun intended) serious. The movie is beautifully filmed with a dreamlike quality to the cinematography. Swiss Army Man is sort of a deconstructed satire on indie films that take themselves too seriously, but so well-written that it still manages to be incredibly poignant. At times, it's reminiscent of Spike Jonez with a dash of Michel Gondry thrown in, but not in a derivative way. I have never seen a movie quite like this and it defies any categorization. The editing is incredible as well, with a few absolutely moving sequences that dazzle with both their cleverness and explanation of the human condition. Pretty good for a film about a farting dead guy.

If Harry Potter could only see me now........

The score is wonderful as well and is integrated into the film in a novel way. Sometimes Hank will hum a melody which will gradually build itself into the musical score via looping and effects. Manny also joins in on the fun by randomly singing his own songs or harmonizing with Hank.  It's an adorable way to incorporate the music organically into the film and puts the movie on the cusp of being a full-blown musical. There is also a cameo by the score of another beloved film that is used for comedic effect. Every single thing in Swiss Army Man is so novel and endearing that you can't help but get swept up by its uniqueness. For a film this wacky to work it has to establish rules in its universe and stick to them which the two directors (known as "The Daniels") accomplish masterfully.

So if you, dear film goer, are stuck on your own cinematic deserted island, rifling through washed up garbage and driftwood--fear not. The Daniels have found your note in a bottle calling for help and have sent you rescue in the form of Swiss Army Man--the story of friendship, love...and farts.

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-Michelle Kisner