Swiss Army Man is about a despondent castaway on a tiny island who becomes friends with a farty corpse. Mind you, he's not just a little gassy. He farts so often, and so powerfully, that the castaway is able to straddle his body and ride it around the ocean like a jet ski. A fart-powered jet ski. Paul Dano plays Hank, the sad man. Daniel Radcliffe plays Manny, the dead person. Both are fully committed to their roles. Thanks to their fine work, the film manages to be more than just funny and weird.
Still, it's mostly weird. Weird, weird, weird, weird, weird, gross, and weird. Swiss Army Man is unlike any movie you have ever seen. Is weird a good enough reason to see the film? I'll get to that in a bit. We're still in the orientation portion of this essay.
The Daniels made that video and they re-stage a part of it in the movie, as Manny the corpse's penis becomes hard and moves around his pants. A lot. So much that I initially thought the erection was overacting. I mean, all guys have that one odd muscle we can use to make our boners twitch, but Manny's dick was making impossible moves. Hank soon realizes it can be used as a compass.
I feel the need to tell you that when Manny's erection first started dancing around, it actually bugged me. "That's not realistic," I thought, just before I remembered that I was watching a movie about a guy's friendship with a talking corpse. Foolish me.
Manny's got more going on than powerful farts and a compass dick. He can barf fresh water. He's really good in a fight with a bear. He truly is a Swiss Army Man.
I've kept my focus on the grotesque elements of the film because that's the drawing card of the production. There's more going on — a sweet, sad tale of a lost man desperate for intimacy. There are tender moments along with all the awkward stuff, but don't come expecting a profound resolution, because The Daniels haven't reached that point yet. After getting loads of attention for their short films, they're still learning how to create a cohesive long-form narrative.
For instance, Manny finds it sad that Hank won't fart in front of him. Radcliffe's line reading makes the statement sound profound, but do you really think the ideal relationship should include a total lack of inhibitions? Total? All the time?
The film's insights fit the maturity level of our lead character, which is fine. The plot is flimsy and flaky, but never mind. I enjoyed watching the burgeoning friendship between the men (or the hallucinated relationship of a distraught Hank). Dano and Radcliffe work together beautifully.
I asked earlier if weird is a good enough reason to see this film. When I wrote that, I intended to say "No," but I've talked myself into saying, "Yep." You can laugh, wince, and squirm at Swiss Army Man. You can harvest the small truths, enjoy the lyrical moments, and listen to the music by Manchester Orchestra. And when somebody asks you if you've seen any good movies lately, boy, will you have an interesting answer.