Spotty ‘Swiss Army Man’ Has Just Enough Gas

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Average: 5 (1 vote) Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – It’s a simple concept. A man is stuck on an island, and has run out of hope. A dead corpse washes ashore and starts farting. The farts are so frequent that the man rides the corpse like a jet ski. The man is “saved”? Oh yes, and the corpse is portrayed by Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe.

In one of the wildest and most original ideas to come along in film culture in a while, “Swiss Army Man” is a “one joke” concept that does a bit more than just expectorate gas. The journey that the man and his corpse go on becomes important enough to change a few lives, and no matter which astral plane the actions of the dead body are coming from, the way he is able to save a dying man becomes the most important point. This is a buddy comedy for the ages, and besides the obvious cheap fart joke laughs, it does have some heart.

Hank (Paul Dano) is stuck on a remote island without food, ever since – according to him – he was shipwrecked. He come to the end of his rope, and uses it to hang himself. Just as he is about to do it, he spies a body on the beach. The corpse is dead, but he dubs it Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). The body has a talent for flatulence, so much so that Hank is literally able to use the corpse as power boat to safety.

Radcliffe, Dano Top
Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hank (Paul Dano) of ‘Swiss Army Man’
Photo credit: A24

But the safety is only relative, Hank is still lost. He takes it upon himself to bring Manny along, and use his body to survive. Manny’s farts start fires, he is able to provide clean water like a faucet and his flatulence also allows him to fly. He also begins to talk, in a sort of nether state way, and Hank begins to teach him anew about the world he has left behind. There is a girl named Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who also has a role in both their lives, and the key to her truth unlocks the endgame.

This film is an acquired taste. If you don’t have a taste for farts, or simply the dirt of Hank and Manny’s environment, then there is too much of both in this film. The “lessons” that Hank teaches also goes into a very weird place, but they also can be interpreted as touching, especially as he re-teaches Manny about love. For both men, when the student is ready, the master appears…and that form of mastery works on several levels.

And that is the difficulty of the film, because it works obviously on several planes of existence, but really wants to emphasize the emotions that are created between the dead man and the alive-but-dead soul. It is a narrative roller coaster ride, and it’s best to strap in and enjoy it as a story or fable, rather than trying to guess which existence is which. The interactions are sometimes touching, sometimes frustrating, but never boring.

Both actors were up for the challenge, but Paul Dano may need to watch out for typecasting as he portrays yet another wounded emotional being. He is an extraordinarily gifted performer, creating a truth in Hank that generates empathy for the character, despite the need to keep being lost. His desire to educate Manny becomes touching and creepy at the same time, and Dano has a peculiarly one-of-a-kind approach to fostering affectations in the touching/creepy modes.

Radcliffe, Dano
Guess Who’s Washing Ashore? Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe of ‘Swiss Army Man’
Photo credit: A24

Keep an eye out for Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe, because he is working like the devil to get rid of that parenthetical descriptive. Besides staying true to Manny’s deadness, he also had to apply several weird physical energies to the Swiss Army Man. It was a tough role, and while he doesn’t completely nail it, he certainly is evolving as a storyteller-through-acting. It seemed like a role he simply couldn’t pass up, evident in the challenge and the resulting performance.

The film was written and directed by the “Two Daniels” (Scheinert and Kwan), and they added a third Dan for their featured performer. They are both sincere when it comes to what they wanted to communicate (see interview link below), and for the most part managed to pull it off. If there was an Oscar for Most Original Idea, these two would be dusting off their mantels, waiting for the gold.

CLICK HERE for the interview with writer/directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan of Swiss Army Man.

“Swiss Army Man” opened nationwide on July 1st. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Richard Gross. Screenplay written and film directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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