Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Swiss Army Man Review

In case you haven't heard, Swiss Army Man is quite a strange movie. If the goal of directing duo Daniels (which consists of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) was to ensure that their first feature-length directorial effort had a premise was so singularly odd it was practically guaranteed to slot them some form of fame, it wouldn't be a shocking development. Thankfully, the two individuals are not just here to show off brazen weirdness for weirdness sake (though Lord knows there's plenty of that to be found in Swiss Army Man), instead managing to show off a real sense of identity in their initial foray into the world of longer-form storytelling.

Swiss Army Man basically hinges itself on a one-joke premise (what if a guy stranded in the woods was stuck with a sentient corpse?) that somehow manages to sustain an entire movie. The marooned guy in question is Hank (Paul Dano), a lonely man stranded on a desert island when something washes ashore...a human carcass named Manny. As you'd likely expect, Manny begins to heavily flatulate once Hank discovers him and shortly thereafter also begins to speak. With his new kind of sort of dead pal in tow, Hank tries to get back to civilization with a pervasive curious Manny asking a barrage of questions regarding everyday elements of the real world (i.e. what is a bus, what's sex, etc).

Daniels (who is also behind the screenplay) gets a lot of humor out of Manny's unfamiliarity with common facets of conventional American society as well as Hank's reactions to Manny's ignorance and Hank trying to teach the corpse about concepts about love that maybe Hank could also stand to learn a lesson or two about. The duo spend much of the movie romping around the forest contemplating lofty concepts like "why don't people embrace their own farts?". For me, I've never been the biggest fan of flatulent related humor, so it actually comes as a pretty major win for Swiss Army Man that it was, as a whole, able to win me over with its acutely distinctive humor despite farts playing a major role in both the gags and certain story points. I just managed to grin and bear it during the flatulent related moments, which really didn't come across as gratuitous (though the many fart gags still didn't work for me as comedy per se) to me as a staunch anti-fart gag kind of guy.

Farts aren't the only place where Swiss Army Man mines its comedy from, there's plenty of examples of absurdism (it's a movie about a corpse coming to life, so the whole movie is basically one extended voyage into absurdism), pop culture references to noteworthy pieces of cinema and Hank and Manny just bouncing off each other in the woods. The interactions between the lead duo are where my personal favorite pieces of comedy come from, especially since Daniel Radcliffe plays the part of a naive individual coming to terms with the larger world around him so well. Similarly, Paul Dano plays off of Radcliffe in a similarly successful manner, especially whenever he's trying to teach him about the finer points of romance.

Cinematographer Larkin Seiple fills the frames of Swiss Army Man with the various tranquil foliage found in the forest that Hank and Manny are trapped in and he crafts numerous exquisite shots that take advantage of the visual opportunities presented by the movies more natural surroundings. The appealing look of Swiss Army Man is complimented by a soundtrack that lends the movie its own identity. There are numerous scenes here that have almost a music video vibe to them thanks to how much the background music occasionally seems to be informing the actions or emotions on-screen. Hell, within the dialogue of the movie itself, the 1995 Rednex tune Cotton Eyed Joe becomes a minor anthem between Hank and Manny.

Swiss Army Man is a production marked by gusto, by a bold sense of "let's just go for it". There's plenty of moments in the story where it's just going for oddness for no real reason other than why not, but even these narratively immaterial bits have a tinge of heart or humor to them that makes their extraneous nature easier to bear. The directing duo Daniels certainly have a voice and a rhythm to their work that I'm very curious to grow in future movies. For now though, all we have to look at is their debut feature, Swiss Army Man, which is a fine mix of oddness, fun and depth. And lots of male genitalia jokes, plenty of those around in this movie too.

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