Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan‘s (A.K.A. The Daniels) flatulence-fueled, sea-stranded mind trip is a totally bonkers, emotionally decadent spirit quest to the weirdest corners of reality. A man and a corpse test the boundaries of friendship and filmmaking in this boundlessly creative, wildly original tramp sure to shock any lucky enough to cross its odd path. Rich thematic elements of self-discovery and questionable sexuality slam the rocky shoals of excessive farting, boners-that-think-for-themselves and general farcical bombast in this absolutely absurd sketch; one that could only come from the minds of former music video director gurus like The Daniels. Swiss Army Man is uncompromisingly weird and goddamn if I didn’t respect the hell out of that fact.
Stranded on some single-palm-treed island, Hank (Paul Dano), a man at the (literal) end of his rope, has all but given up hope of rescue. With a scraggly beard, nothing to entertain himself save for his vivid imagination and a calming tune to distract him from the job at hand, Hank attaches himself to the hindquarter of a make-shift noose (not dissimilar from Tom Hank’s ever-lingering threat back on Wilson Island.) Just as Hank’s about to let ‘er rip, he notices a body has washed ashore.
This flesh-bound harbinger of hope is not the solace Hank expects though, as the bloodbag (Daniel Radcliffe) is thoroughly dead. After pumping chest a few times to no effect, Hank saunters back to his noose. Ready to end it all, he notices the corpse is uncharacteristically gassy, loosing steamy bubbles into the salt water like a burbling motorboat. What comes next would feel at home in an episode of South Park and is surely the defining moment of Swiss Army Man – the moment that inspired many to up and walk out of the premiere – Hank affixes the rope to Radcliffe’s farty cadaver and, using the propulsion of his prodigious toots, rides him like a jet-ski across the ocean back to civilization.
Cue title card.
Swiss Army Man isn’t afraid to turn to viewers off and its full-steam-ahead obsession with flatulence is stinky proof enough. What is abundantly clear is that the Daniels are willing to take risks; to mix their headiness with true pubescent petulance. Swiss Army Man may be one long elevated fart joke but it’s also the best fart joke ever told; the outlandish marriage of brass intellectualism and boorish physical comedy.
To get too much more into detail would be to spoil the embarrassment of riches stored within. Just when you think Swiss Army Man has hit a wall, it figures a way to scale it (particularly in the wonderful second act) and this is in large part due to pivotal performances from Dano and Radcliffe. Hot off a good year that went (unsurprisingly) unnoticed, Dano is in peak form. Bizarrely enough, Radcliffe might have summited his career as the film’s fizzy carcass. Both of their work is fantastic.
Swiss Army Man has a horse-powered pulse that drives it constantly forward, stopping only for organic character development or to slip in a Jurassic Park reference. The Daniels have an editor’s keen eye for detail which results in brilliant sets reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s most eccentric work. Where some might have broken the world down into the bare essentials, the crew here takes Swiss Family Robinson to the nth degree. The sets are outstanding. Also notable is the Daniels’ zesty approach to the score; a beautifully haunting aural wave that is part and parcel of the film at large. Characters begin to hum and that humming with transform into a symphony. In Dolby Atmos, the soundscape (farts include) attack from every direction. Much like the film itself.
CONCLUSION: One of the most bizarre and bizarrely beautiful films to grace the Sundance Dramatic Competition in quite some time, ‘Swiss Army Man’ is not a film to be puzzled out in one go but that’s ok. It’s mightily entertaining, features two standout performances and has enough raw originality coursing through its veins to make it truly stand in a league of its own.