Sunday, July 24, 2016

'Swiss Army Man' review

At some point this year, you've probably heard something about a movie where Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse. There has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding Swiss Army Man ever since it premiered at Sundance. After all, what a brilliant concept. It's Harry Potter! But he's dead and farting! Who doesn't want to see that? After seeing the film, I can confirm two things- Radcliffe is great, and yes, there are a lot of farts. However, a sad thing has happened with this film. The critical response for Swiss Army Man and its merits as a film have been drowned out by all of the farting noise. This is truly unfortunate, because the directorial debut of Daniels is a sweet, unique, and absolutely unforgettable journey. Look, some people will never be able to get beyond the strangeness of the concept, and I can understand. But if you look deeper, Swiss Army Man will reveal itself to you and become a truly astounding experience.

Let's be real here though- on the surface, there's no doubt that this is a deeply weird, strange, and unconventional film. Swiss Army Man won't cater to everyone's tastes, and I doubt that many people will find it as entirely engrossing as I did. The story centers around Hank, played with a desperate, charming vulnerability by Paul Dano. When we first meet our protagonist, he's standing on a rock with a noose around his neck, ready to give up on the world and meet his maker after several grueling months alone on a desert island. Hank is a man without hope. He has run away from his home and found himself in a no-win situation. But as he's standing there, inches away from his death, Hank sees something on the shore. Much to his surprise, it's a man, the first human being that he has seen in a long time. Hank runs over and discovers that unfortunately, the man is dead.

But something weirder is happening. The corpse is......farting. Hank prepares to die again, but instead, he hops on the dead body and rides the fart wave to the shore. I'm not kidding. This is a scene from a movie that played in 600 theaters. After the electrifying opening scene, Hank begins to treat the body as a companion in his journey to get back home. Soon enough, things manage to get even weirder. The dead man proves useful beyond his farting capabilities, and after a while, he starts talking. His name is Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) and he can do pretty much anything (hence the name Swiss Army Man). As Hank and Manny wander through the wilderness together, a lonely man will find his way back home and realize why the insanity of life is worth it after all.

For a film that involves farting, boners, and masturbation, it's kinda surprising that Swiss Army Man is so sweet. It sounds and looks like your typical quirky Sundance fare, but there's an accessibility to it that just works. It never feels too crude or too intellectual, settling for a middle ground that is both audience-friendly and smart. Swiss Army Man doesn't pander to its audience with fart gags or in-depth talks about masturbation- instead, it utilizes those normally taboo subjects as part of a fascinating narrative about what it means to be human. I figured that the strangeness of this flick would be right up my alley, but I never expected to fall in love with its big, beautiful heart quite like I did. It's a warm and inviting vision, one that is desperately needed in a world filled with cynicism.

None of this would be possible without the extraordinary, awards-worthy performances of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, two actors who put their all into crafting this unique experience. Dano burst onto the scene in 2006 with Little Miss Sunshine, but each year, his stock as one of our finest actors rises even higher. Roles in Prisoners, 12 Years A Slave, and Love & Mercy have highlighted Dano's versatility, and in Swiss Army Man, the young actor may have found his best role yet. He's great at portraying profound vulnerability, but as Hank, Dano has to do something else entirely- he has to be incredibly likable. As the central core of the movie, the audience has to fall in love with the heartbroken, slightly obsessive, and deeply hopeless Hank, which is no small task. But of course, Dano pulls this off with ease, and it's beautiful to watch Hank's immense change over the course of the film.

On the other hand, Radcliffe has spent the last several years attempting to shed his Harry Potter image, which came to define him as an actor after a decade with the famed franchise. What If was a delightful little film, and Radcliffe was a delectably evil villain in the underrated Now You See Me 2, but there's little doubt in my mind that Swiss Army Man is his breakout film. In this film, Radcliffe is given an impossible role and pulls it off. He steals pretty much every scene that he's in, which is no small order when paired on screen with Dano. There's a physicality to Manny that is really impressive, but it pales in comparison to the deft touch that he brings to every line of dialogue. His performance is humorous, clever, and fully deserving of Oscar consideration. It might just be the best portrayal of a dead body in cinematic history.

Nonetheless, going into Swiss Army Man, I had already seen the greatness of Dano and Radcliffe displayed on screen many times. The true breakout stars here are Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the directorial duo known as Daniels. They're newbies to the whole feature film business, and I applaud them for tackling something so bold, fresh, and thrilling for their first full-length movie. Kwan and Scheinert are breathtakingly original, technically brilliant, and driven by a true sense of cinematic pizzazz, which runs like a pulse through every scene of Swiss Army Man. They have a clear voice, one that is broad and funny, philosophical and whip-smart. In addition, their use of music is mesmerizing, and even if you walk away disappointed, the enormous talent of these two young filmmakers is undeniable.

Swiss Army Man is a dazzling ode to the human race, the announcement of the most talented directorial team since Lord and Miller, a perfect companion piece to Anomalisa, a performance showcase for two of our best actors, a testament to the power of farting, a film that blindsided me in ways I didn't expect, and much, much more. Basically- come for the farting corpse, stay for the sweetest film of the year south of Sing Street (let's face it, nothing is touching that one). Swiss Army Man goes in some weird, fantastical directions that feel almost hallucinatory at times, but that's part of the appeal. The directorial debut of Daniels is an exploration of how the simple things can make us feel the most human and how we can find life in the most unexpected places. And in some very dark times, that's a message that needs to be heard.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)

Image Credits: Indiewire, Variety, Indiewire, Joblo

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