Review: Swiss Army Man (Sundance)
REVIEW: Only one week after its Sundance world premiere, SWISS ARMY MAN has become infamous. Apparently, during its premiere screening at the Eccles, audience members walked out en-masse, put off by the film’s premise, which essentially cast Daniel Radcliffe as a magical farting corpse. Imagine a kind of art-house WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S and you’re not far off. Still, this reaction didn’t keep SWISS ARMY MAN from picking up a big distributor (A24) and directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka - The Daniels) eventually took home the “best director” award at the Sundance Awards, beating out artier fare.
SWISS ARMY MAN wound-up being the last movie I saw at this year’s Sundance, and it was an appropriate end to a wild year. For the record, there were few (if any) walkouts at the packed screening I attended, and the people behind the film (as well as some critics in attendance) tell me the trade stories from the premiere were very exaggerated.
Even if that’s true, SWISS ARMY MAN is a challenging film. It’s certainly a “love it or hate it” kinda deal, and the tone is set right from the first scene, where star Paul Dano rides Radcliffe’s corpse as a jet ski, using the dead man’s farts as a motor, while singing along to the triumphant score by Manchester Orchestra.
Suffice to say, it’s a wild ride. While it occasionally tests the audiences patience, SWISS ARMY MAN is nothing if not unique. While the fart humor is sophomoric in the extreme, there is more to the movie than just a whole lotta gas. It’s really a story of loneliness, as Dano struggles to survive and come to terms with the way he isolated himself in the real world with the unlikely help of his first friend ever - Radcliffe’s corpse.
Eventually, the corpse starts talking and with no memory of his past life, needs Dano to teach him how to speak, while Dano needs Radcliffe because the corpse’s erection apparently points the way to salvation. Luckily, he’s able to keep the body sufficiently aroused when he discovers the dead man’s cell phone, which has a photo of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the screen-saver, with it assumed she’s the corpse’s wife or partner.
Eventually, Dano tries to teach the corpse about love, donning drag and teaching him how to act on a date and flirt. Dano’s performance is wild and while he’s an actor that sometimes strikes me as trying too hard, he’s well suited to the part as this demands a big performance. Of the two, Radcliffe has the hardest part, with him acting dead for the first act, and then barely able to move or speak, with him only being partially reanimated.
All this certainly adds up to a bizarre buddy comedy, and eventually SWISS ARMY MAN starts to run out of gas (not literally) the more ridiculous it gets. The one-joke premise starts to wear thin, even if there are moments of true inspiration scattered throughout. The big asterisk here is that I saw this at the end of a ten day, thirty plus movie run, so maybe if I had seen SWISS ARMY MAN with in a less caffeine-addled state-of-mind I would have had an easier time going along with the ride. Even still, SWISS ARMY MAN is nothing if not unique, and The Daniels obviously have a ton of talent, with this sporting an impressive scale and imagination to spare. It’ll almost certainly become a kind of cult item somewhere down the road, and it’ll be interesting to see how the public reacts to this once A24 puts it in release.