Eight out of 10 average moviegoers probably won’t like “Swiss Army Man,” the new independent dramedy starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe.
This isn’t to say the Sundance Film Festival award-winning film for best direction isn’t visually breathtaking, layered and complex storytelling. “Swiss Army Man” certainly is all of those things and more.
Simply put, too many potential moviegoers will likely be put off completely by a constantly flatulent corpse — played with the utmost care by Radcliffe — because as the film readily admits, “People don’t like other people’s farts.”
And for those who can make it past that initial conceit (and those still reading this review), “Swiss Army Man” will prove to be one of the most inventive cinematic experiences in several years, on par with the terrific Spike Jonze Oscar winning feature “Her.”
When the film opens, viewers are introduced to Hank (Dano) as he prepares to hang himself out of loneliness after being stranded on a desert island for an indeterminate amount of time. As he is about to end his life, a corpse he later names Manny (Radcliffe) washes up on shore and changes his fate.
Hank discovers he can use Manny’s indestructible, undead body as a human Swiss Army knife to make his way home. Along the way, Hank discovers Manny’s countless powers, including the ability to speak, providing Hank with the companion he’s long been searching for.
Alone in the woods for the main duration of the film, Dano literally carries Radcliffe throughout “Swiss Army Man,” though the chemistry between the duo once Manny sort of comes back to life is remarkable.
Dano runs the emotional gambit over the course of “Swiss Army Man” as protagonist Hank, bouncing effortlessly from suicidal to gleeful to lonely and inquisitive and back again like only the most manic of actors could pull off. While not as showy of an effort as the former “Harry Potter” star Radcliffe, veteran character actor Dano holds the weight of the entire film on his shoulders – both figuratively and literally – and does so in the most authentic, natural way possible.
It feels cliché to suggest that Radcliffe brought life to a monotone, flat character in Manny, but that’s exactly what occurs. He perfectly allows viewers to discover Manny in different ways as Radcliffe himself finds them through self-exploration of the character. It’s a stunning performance that will go overlook because of who his character is, but Radcliffe gives what will be one of the year’s best acting efforts nevertheless.
Daniels – the writing/directing team of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – imbue their debut film with a visual vibrancy reminiscent of Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or Jonze’s “Her.” The middle third of the film where Dano and Radcliffe do most of their travelling through the woods is especially gorgeous, as Daniels take advantage of natural lighting and a spectacular wooden area to create compelling, rustic imagery to help frame the action.
The film also features one of the most unique soundtracks you’re likely to find with acapella singing from Dano and Radcliffe kicking off nearly every song on the mesmerizing, existential score from Manchester Orchestra.
While “Swiss Army Man” certainly has the fart jokes and other “dirty” material prevalent in main-stream R-rated comedies today, everything within the film has a distinct, nuanced purpose beyond the simplicity of the sound of gas being released from a person’s backside. “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” this is not.
If you’re horrified watching the trailer for “Swiss Army Man” and don’t want to see it, force yourself into the theater. If you’re disgusted 10 minutes into the first act and want to walk out, force yourself into staying the other 80-plus minutes. And if you leave the theater after watching the entire film thinking it was the worst thing you’ve ever seen, go and watch it again.
“Swiss Army Man” is a film that will grow on smart, adventurous moviegoers willing to give independent filmmakers a chance rather than seeing Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and others make similar, yet much cruder jokes 8-10 times a year in theaters across the country.
Sadly, there’s very little chance of “Swiss Army Man” winning any major accolades at the end of the year, though a slew of Independent Spirit awards wouldn’t be at all surprising. The film is by far one of the three or four best features to arrive in theaters in 2016 and worth seeking out in theaters for any mature moviegoer unafraid of a little gas.