Movie Review: A24's Swiss Army Man - #SwissArmyMan

Swiss Army Man
STARRING: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
WRITTEN/DIRECTED BY: Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)
RATED: Rated R for language and sexual material
RUN TIME: 95 minutes
Outrageously fun and deeply affecting, Swiss Army Man is a gonzo buddy comedy that is the feature film debut of acclaimed music video directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (collectively known as DANIELS, and responsible for the visionary “Turn Down For What” video, among many others). Bursting with limitless creativity in both form and content, Swiss Army Man goes from the absurd to the emotional to the whimsical to the profound and back again.

Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on shore; the two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.

Swiss Army Man creates a world like no other—a place of pure fantastical imagination, brimming with magical realism yet featuring two characters whose dreams and fears are entirely relatable. Dano and Radcliffe both fully commit to their directors’ audacious vision, and their work is exceptional, finding the perfect balance of humor and heart that drives the whole film. A celebration of all the wonders cinema has to offer, Swiss Army Man is a cultural phenomenon in the making; a surreal and wholly original examination of human vulnerability and connection that must be experienced.
The song “Montage,” featured in the film and heard in the trailer, is composed by Andy Hull & Robert McDowel Of Manchester Orchestra and performed by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.

Screening films gives me an opportunity to see all kinds of off-beat movies that I would not otherwise watch.  I see every theatrical release that I can  squeeze into my schedule, and a few that throw off my schedule all together.  I watch the good, the bad and the in-between. And that is where we find this week’s movie endeavor, Swiss Army Man.  It firmly belongs in the in-between, mostly because I was so confused by it that I didn’t know where else to put it.  Why?  Well, I am glad you asked.

Spoiler alert! This is a film about a man on a deserted island with an inanimate object, a corpse.  I don’t really consider that a spoiler. You can get that from the trailers, and I’m pretty sure, the synopsis that’s printed above.  At first, you might think this is novel, but, then, you remember Cast Away and Wilson (the volley ball), Weekend at Bernie’s and Bernie (the dead body), and The Shallows and Steven Seagull (the seagull) and the theory of playing-off inanimate objects becomes less ground-breaking. Still the human body offers an interesting amount of utility, and as you will see, it also gives the film a needed degree of whimsy.

I don’t actually want to spoil any of the plot points, so I can’t explain the whimsy, but it is a lot of fun and quite creative.  The movie is visually vivid.  I was driven to keep watching because I wanted to see what was going to happen next.  Like diving into a rabbit hole, the only way out is through the other side.

I also loved the casting.  Paul Dano is great in all things.  Big range as an actor.  He is young and I think there are even bigger things to come from him in the future.  Daniel Radcliffe, I have never been crazy about.  He was a great Harry Potter, but there isn’t much that he has fit into well since then.  I liked what both actors did in this movie.  The occupied the space well.  That’s all there really is, the two of them, but there is no sense of vacancy on the screen.  The is no small feat.

Still, all that said, I would suggest that you wait to see this until it is available on some video medium.  The plot has a lot of “what the heck” in it.  It felt frustrating.  You wander in circles trying to figure out what the next event is going to be, and, by the end, you are nowhere closer to figuring things out and you’re angry cause you wandered in circles for ninety minutes.  The ending was genuinely disappointing.  It was as if the film had some point to make, and right when it was going to make the point it decided to get utterly ridiculous instead.   

Technically,  Swiss Army Man is very well done.   It has all of the components of a great movie, but it takes more than that to make a genuinely great movie.  And because of the build-up, I  felt disappointed.  You will have to look for Swiss Army Man, if you want to catch it in theaters.  It opened Friday.

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