Friday 21 October 2016

Film: 'Swiss Army Man'

Completely preposterous story from beginning to end - as were also my last two films reviewed, 'Miss Peregrine' and 'Inferno' - though this was better than both, and certainly not having the over-serious pretensions of the latter.

For all but the final minutes of the film there are only two characters, played by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, but the story is so absurd, yet totally original, that it held my interest right through. I've never heard of anything like it either in literature or certainly not on film. Having said that, I was yet not spectacularly impressed, though it certainly had its moments.

Paul Dano, is about to hang himself, apparently having been living as a castaway on a deserted island, and grown tired of living alone. Dishevelled and bushy-bearded, he's just about to step off for the noose to tighten when he espies a body (Radcliffe, of course) washed up on the beach. Investigating that it really is a corpse, he's about to give up and return to the task of suicide when he's intrigued by the sound of built-up gases escaping from the deceased. (An oft-repeated but key 'joke' this, so if one finds farting funny, there'll be laughs galore throughout the film.)
Pulling the body onto dry land he tries to resuscitate life into it but gives up, though allowing it to keep him company in his lonely existence. To his utter amazement he finds that, despite its state of decomposing, the body starts to talk, initially in slurred, disjointed fashion, then sightly more coherently so that he can even have conversations with it.  
He also gradually discovers that the corpse has a number of features which he can use to his advantage, hence the film's title. Although it cannot move without his assistance, he gets it to use an astonishing inordinate physical strength in various activities, some of which involve using gas expulsion. In its talking, it seems the body has forgotten what life was like and Dano has to teach it/him the basics. In an old magazine, when Radcliffe sees a certain photograph of a beautiful girl he becomes aroused and prominently tumescent under his trousers, this seeming to be the only activity he can do himself, even though it's involuntary. (Very unrealistic depiction, this - at least in my experience I've never seen such an actively 'mobile' one! But so what? The entire story requires a complete suspension of disbelief!) 
Dano now has been given a direction to his life, his mission now to instruct Radcliffe on the art of courtship, and with makeshift skirt and wig he shows the corpse how to achieve success with the female sex. 
One of the numerous curious qualities which the Radcliffe corpse had was that he could belch up drinkable water for Dano. As Radcliffe had been drowned, why wasn't he bringing up sea-water? But this was just one of the countless holes in the story, which doesn't play well if one dwells too much on it. You just have to dismiss such nit-picking and let the story run on regardless.
Can't say too much more without spoiling it, and definitely not what the end comprises. 
I've been rather bemused by reading some of the 'interpretations' read into this film by some viewers, including those going to extraordinary lengths to rationalise the story, theorise on its meanings and to suggested 'symbolism'. I'll have no truck with that. It's just an entertainment, for heaven's sake, and I don't think it was intended to be any more than that. 

Both Dano and Radcliffe give spirited performances, one might say, - though in the case of the latter I think 'lifeless' would be a better description, here in the most appreciatively appropriate sense.

It's jointly written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, both of whom played parts, most notably, in the 'My Best Friend's Wedding' project with Julia Roberts.

I give the film very high marks for originality and cheeky daring, though the final result left me feeling just a bit short of what it could have been. Its being very slightly over 90 minutes in length is another point in its favour. If you're particularly fond of fart jokes you might think it of greater worth than my own.................6.5.


  1. This just sounds so odd and so one-note, but then I saw Radcliffe on Graham Norton and he talked about the film and made it sound interesting so .......

    1. It is one-note, Bob, but they still play that uni-note a number of different ways. But if you're curious enough about it, I recommend it as you can be assured that you'll have never seen anything like it before.

  2. Not surprised that Dano is starring in yet another quirky role. But why is Radcliffe, since coming out of a box office high in the Harry Potter series,following in Dano's footsteps?

    "Swiss Army Man" has not played in a darkened movie theater, but like Radcliffe's other film has gone straight to VOD. Who is choosing these roles?

    Hope in the future he makes better choices. If not, Daniel come back to the Broadway stage. We love you!

    1. I wouldn't have held this particular role against him, Paul. He's done here what no other actor has done before, at least so far as I'm aware, on film, so for that I give him credit, even if the film itself is not exactly a 'cracker'. I think it's a bit of a pity that in your part of the world it's not had a cinema release, if nly for its unusual-ness.
      I don't think Radcliffe will so easily give up on his theatre career, at least I hope not.

    2. Your comment pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me watch this last night. I found it to be weird, amazing and beautiful. This morning, I am still thinking about it.

      Daniel was superb, proving again that he just keeps growing as an actor.

      Let us not forget the other two Daniels: Kwan and Scheinert - the gay couple writers and directors who created this work.

      Definetely going to watch this again tonight before my rental expires.

    3. I'm delighted that my comment turned out to have been so helpfully constructive, Paul. It certainly hadn't been intended to have the effect that it did. As the film gave you such pleasure (more than myself, it appears) I'm most happy that it worked out that way.

      I'll be more comfortable watching Radcliffe when I can stop thinking of him as the one-time H.P., and I'm not finding it easy to achieve it. But it must be said that he's trying, and already has invested in a wider range of roles than other actors two or more times his age. No one can deny that he's very good indeed in this film. I really would like to see him on stage, though - particularly in Shakespeare or one of the 'classics'. I think he could play an Ibsen character convincingly.

      I didn't know anything at all about the two Daniels. Looks like they have the potential to be a formidable team.

      I think this film is one which I would watch again. My initial feelings of distaste when I first heard what it's about have been reassured by seeing it. I actually caught it at the last screening on its last day of showing, so it was a close thing.
      I hope you get as much pleasure second time around.

  3. Ray,
    Another great review! At first look I thought maybe this film was too weird but the more I read your review I became intrigued. I'll add this to my Netflix queue.

    1. When I first heard what it was about, Ron, I though it must go too far into 'unsavoury' territory. I suppose it does, really, but I think once you've accepted it then the film carries the idea along nicely enough. If you like things 'unusual' then you ought to appreciate this.

  4. I kind of wanted to see it, but it lasted a week in the theaters here. Never got to it - and even while I knew it was released, I didn't make the effort. I'm not sure I truly missed anything - though it did look original.

    1. Its complete originality of story is what gripped me the most, Blobby, but the performances of both Dano and Radcliffe (especially the latter) are quite remarkable. I think if you had caught it your opinion might well have been raised slightly - or more.