‘Swiss Army Man’ (2016) | Sundance Review

Yes, this is the movie that features Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse with the ability to fart so powerfully he can speed across the water like a jet ski, as Paul Dano sits on his back with a triumphant fist in the air. Oh, and that’s in the first three minutes of the movie. That detail will either set the tone for you of Swiss Army Man being a one-joke film or, as it was for me, the beginning of something wonderfully bizarre that never seized surprising me with its comedy and its earnest, honest friendship between its two leads.

David (Dano) has been stranded on an island for who knows how long. Long enough to grow a long, ratty beard. As he is about to end it all, a body (Radcliffe) washes up on shore. Instead of it being alive as David hoped, he just farts, which escalates to the point I mentioned in the opening paragraph. They make it a forest and attempt to find their way back to civilization. Radcliffe’s Manny does get some life into him, to the extent he can speak and think, and possesses a number of abilities, like shooting things out of his mouth with tremendous force and having an unusual compass, to put it mildly.

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But all of that is the outrageous framework to hang on a very simple story. David has to teach Manny how to be a person who can function in society, the same society David had wanted to do away with because of his fear of living. The most important component to this teaching is love and companionship spurred on by Manny seeing a picture of Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on David’s phone (though Manny believes its his) and falling head over heels for her. This is done with David dressing up as Sarah and recreating scenarios that could occur in real life. Seeing her on a bus. Having dinner together. Watching Netflix. And all of this is coming from someone who can’t even love himself.

Swiss Army Man is, most importantly, funny. The comedy premise here is a truly unique one. I can definitely say I have not seen a movie like this before. Radcliffe, especially, has impeccable timing with a droll delivery. I hope people realize now that he is a seriously great actor. He and Dano have a great rapport, which is extremely necessary when they are the only two people in 95% of the movie. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (billed as “The Daniels”) establish themselves as having the ability to build jokes over a feature length film and not just Funny or Die shorts, a world where they come from.

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Even with all the farting and masturbation talk, their friendship and need for one another to grow is quite beautiful. When the singing of the theme form Jurassic Park is able to go from joke to profoundly moving, they’ve really hooked into something there. It certainly earns the emotional use of that music a whole hell of a lot more than Jurassic World ever could. Each moment of emotional distress and catharsis experienced during their relationship is entirely earned, and like a good movie should, it made me rethink about how I go about my life. It made me want to get up and talk to the pretty girl on the bus.

This is not going to be for everyone, as the couple of walkouts during my screening proved, but if you are willing to look beyond the premise that on the surface sounds juvenile and dumb, you will be shocked as to not only how much you laugh but how much you will be moved. I didn’t expect it to get a little choked up during Swiss Army Man. How could I? There’s a fart-powered man jet ski in this movie.

GRADE: A-

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