I was really really excited to see this film. But when I did finally see it l came out with a different reaction than I was anticipating.
Swiss Army Man is the first film by Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert: otherwise known as ‘Daniel’s’. In the past the directing duo have been known for their adverts, short films & music videos – most recognisably for DJ Snake & Lil Jon’s Turn Down For What. The film features another two Dan’s in lead, with Paul Dano & Daniel Radcliffe, & also features Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The story is about Hank, a guy washed up & stranded on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. He’s giving up on rescue when he meets Manny – a corpse that washes up on the beach in front of him. Isolated & a little bit mad, Hank befriends him & discovers that Manny has a lot of uses, then together they go on a mission to get back home.
Hank is a anxiety ridden, shy & damaged guy who was always a bit isolated way before he was ever deserted in the wild played by Paul Dano. Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has no recollection of who he was when he was alive so he’s learning about the world all over again.
If you know me, you know I love Paul Dano. I first watched him as big brother Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine when I was probably too young to be watching it in the first place & my love has only grown stronger since (just see how much I raved about him in my War & Peace review from the start of the year). But it’s Daniel Radcliffe that really shines in this. Playing a corpse seems easy at first thought; you just lie really still & thats it; but it’s actually so difficult to pull off & Radcliffe nails it even when having conversations. He brings so much heart to a Frankenstein like role, a reanimated corpse who wants to find love & it’s hilarious & emotional, There is absolutely zero trace of Harry Potter in this performance & he is BRILLIANT.
The script is also by Daniel’s, & is very fast paced & witty. It’s full of fart jokes, but the main humour comes from the interaction between Hank & Manny is brilliant & the dialogue between them is hilarious. It’s very Gilmore Girls-esque in how fast the exchange is & that’s one of my favourite types of comedy, & very difficult to pull off.
The film is split into three acts really: discovering Manny, being best friends with Manny & arriving home with Manny. The first act takes a little bit to get used to, because it does jump straight in with a guy talking to a dead body he’s just found washed up on the beach. The second act is everything I hoped the film would be; stupid, beautifully shot, really hopeful & emotional & moving. The second act explores their new found friendship, with Hank teaching Manny all about the world
The third act I wasn’t so fond of. I feel like it kind of tarnished the film a little bit, especially after such a test middle & it felt a little bit obvious. The audience can see that Manny isn’t really alive, & is just a dead body that Hank is projecting on & imagining as a coping mechanism to help him survive, so spelling it out by seeing how other people react to the unlikely friendship is a little annoying & kind of ruins the magic. I think it would have been best left as the two best friends, parting just before Hank makes his return to society – then it would have been way more emotional, & a way more beautiful story of the time shared between the two of them. The ending it has just brings it all back to the real world & just makes it depressing. But then again, that’s just my opinion & maybe that’s what the Daniel’s wanted to show.
The cinematography & editing is beautiful. Seeing this bedraggled man & his dead friend against this lush green forest is really beautiful, as are the beach shots of the waves crashing in on the shore over dead Manny. It’s another example of the gross against the beautiful & I love it.
The soundtrack is much like an indie film soundtrack, which might sound stupid but it just has that kind of mellow, happy/sad music to it that makes you want to cry you’re feeling so many emotions – which is most notable in the montage of Hank & Manny getting out a big ditch type thing. There’s also some cult classic references in the music from Hank’s staged movie night & lots of Jurassic Park singalongs.
The costume is great for the two characters, especially Manny in a plain work suit. This is such a clever way of giving nothing away about Manny’s previous life, with no indication about his personality, his job, his relationships. It’s all disheveled & ripped up too but not in a scary zombie way either – he still somehow manages to come across as friendly.
Swiss Army Man made me feel happy & hopeful in a melancholy sort of way. Paul Dano was quoted to say that he signed on to the film after the creators told him that “The first fart will make you laugh, & the last one will make you cry”. I think that’s a pretty accurate way of putting it.
It’s not perfect, but do go see it. There’s no other film quite like it, & both actors are incredible in it. The