Swiss Army Man Review

Swiss Army Man is a 2016 dramedy written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan. The film has become infamous for being one of the most bizarre movies made in years. Audience members at the Sundance film festival famously left the theater because it was too strange.

Story
Hank is stranded on an island and about to commit suicide when he spots a washed up body on the beach. He takes the corpse and discovers that it can do many unexplained, magical things, like farting to propel itself across the ocean. The corpse eventually regains some consciousness and begins speaking to Hank, referring to himself as Manny, asking him about life and civilization. As Hank carries Manny along for the surprising amount of practical applications he has, Hank explains things to him about life and society.

The setup is admittedly strange, but delightfully original. It's not too often you get a fresh, new idea out of Hollywood and it's just too bad that hardly anybody went to see this one.

The characters are great. Hank is the everyman and audience POV. We understand how miserable it must feel to alone at the start and we even strangely understand when he starts talking to Manny's body; he just needs somebody to talk to. We also completely feel his surprise when Manny starts talking back. Manny is a fun, absent minded character, and a great dynamic relationship forms between the two men. Throughout the film Hank is constantly teaching Manny new things, from what a car is to the significance of certain hand gestures and even what movies are. It's almost as if he's raising a child, teaching him the rules of life from childhood to puberty to adulthood.

Through this relationship the screenplay shines. Through Hank's explanations of unspoken rules in society we get a stinging critique of societal norms, since some things in life, when said out loud, sound quite silly. The humor is surprisingly unconventional, keeping with the theme of the film, I suppose. It's comprised mostly of fart jokes, which I haven't seen in awhile, and physical humor which seems to pay homage to old Buster Keaton films.

There are some parts of the story that might be too weird for some audience members. For example, when Hank is teaching Manny about love Hank actually dresses up as a girl for Manny to talk to. At some points it goes to uncomfortable lengths, but nothing past strange. Besides, they manage to get some good jokes out of the ordeal.

Technical
The film is very minimalistic in its technical approach. There are no grand set pieces, there are only two characters with hardly any resources and they're both in the middle of the woods. Therefore, this section is predicted to be quite short.

The two actors do a wonderful job; Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe share a remarkable chemistry, bouncing off of one another with perfect timing in the comedic bits and portraying a warm bond in the dramatic scenes. However, it's Daniel Radcliffe who walks away with the movie; despite hardly moving or even having much facial expression for the majority of the film he manages to give Manny a lot of personality through his line delivery. The inflections, pitch and tone are all perfect.

I'm most impressed by the film's use of color. If you pay close attention to the film industry and what palettes and color-correction they're fond of using you will notice that they are very fond of grey, flat looking pictures. The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have an annoying habit of toning down and dimming what should be bright costumes and scenery. In this film, however, the costumes and sets are bright, crisp and lively. All except for Manny who, as a corpse, is grey and drab. However, this presents an interesting twist of irony to the film. Hank is wearing a bright red shirt throughout the whole film, which you would think would mark him as a lively, outgoing person. However, we learn that he is, in fact, shy, timid and introverted. Manny, on the other hand, has much more of a lust for life, extroversion and bravery. In any other film, the colors are would be on the wrong people, but that's part of film's point. We're called by the characters not just to look lively and alive, but to BE alive, act lively, enjoy life and don't give two hoots about what other people think of your good time.

The cinematography is beautiful as well; the directors are fond of long takes and smooth camera movement, which is a nice change of pace from the frantic editing of most films. It's also good with how close the camera is from the actors. It remembers the old saying "tragedy is a close up, comedy is a long shot". When something funny happens, it's usually either a long shot or a medium shot, where the actor's torso to their face is visible. When there's a dramatic moment it's usually a close up on their face. The point of this is to manipulate the audience. If the camera is a close up we feel like we're in the moment with the character, feeling what they're feeling. If there's a long shot we feel disconnected from the characters enough to laugh at what's happening. Since it's not happening to us, we don't feel as much of their pain or the awkwardness of the situation.

The music is done all a capella, with the actors actually beginning to sing the music on screen and then going to non-diegetic sound with a cut. It doesn't work all the time, mostly because there are some situations in this film the characters wouldn't be singing, but other times it works and it's at least fun music to listen to.

Summary: Swiss Army Man is a strange little gem, but it's still a gem nonetheless. It's got a great script, gorgeous visual direction, insightful social commentary and a fantastic performance from Daniel Radcliffe, finally distancing himself from Harry Potter. If you're not particularly into strange concepts like this you should probably skip it, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice. Check this one out and experience a whole new lease on life.

A-

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