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Swiss Army Man – Movie Review

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Swiss Army Man – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy D Films

The amount of original plotlines are actually quite minimal, as just about every conceivable storyline has been written and filmed in some shape or form. Swiss Army Man is, at its heart, a buddy movie and yet directors/writers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert make it unpredictable and unique in a truly refreshing way. The plot of a farting corpse washed up ashore is unusual, yet they manage to find the humour and a strange macabre charm in it. Underneath this dead body, there’s a tale about maturing and trying to make the right decisions. Swiss Army Man also presents one of the oddest love stories ever put to screen.

It’s a credit to Paul Dano that he is able to maintain strong chemistry with a corpse. Yet even before Daniel Radcliffe’s Manny attains sentient life, he manages to make a connection. The resourcefulness with which Dano’s Hank takes on the situation is quite inspired. Even the flatulence emanating from Manny’s body is not merely there for a cheap joke, but is a natural part of his character development and growing human understanding. The other off-colour jokes also work due to the innocence with which he asks these questions. Hank is basically the father trying to teach his teenage son about the birds and the bees, but done with a quirky sense of humour.

The physicality of Radcliffe’s performance deserves to be commended, with his ability to give little emotion and yet still show a playful side and curiousity during his scenes. It’s almost remarkable how much humour is gained from his lack of facial expressions. The soundtrack also plays a role in Manny slowly gaining a conscience again and provides some of the more heartwarming scenes as the two leads harmonize. In between the humour, Kwan and Scheinert insert some rather tense scenes as they try to survive in the wild. A sequence with a bear doesn’t quite reach the intensity of Hugh Glass’s brawl in The Revenant, but it’s nonetheless exciting.

A lot of Swiss Army Man works as piece of magical realism, allowing us to interpret how much is real and how much Hank is slowly losing his mind. This analysis still holds true when the film reaches its conclusion, but some of the wonder does get a little lost in the final act. Thankfully, the screenplay keeps things mostly ambiguous, but the film ends on a shrug and it downplays some of what came before it. This is admittedly a film where it’s probably a tad tricky to think of a fitting ending and one cannot blame the filmmakers for going the route they did.

With the common complaint that there’s not enough originality in Hollywood, it’s usually because one is merely looking at the big franchise releases. However, if one peaks around the corner, they can find something unique and often unpredictable. Swiss Army Man is one such film, a weird buddy movie with a love story and lowbrow sex comedy thrown in for good measure. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe feel like natural lifelong chums, even if one of them is dead through his entire screen time. Rather than being a turnoff, the unusual nature of this project adds to its charm and macabre appeal.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison