I wonder how the casting conversation went on this? You ring Paul Dano (one of my favourite actors) and ask him to play a castaway who is apparently going a little mad. And then you have to ring Daniel Radcliffe and ask him if he’s interested in playing a corpse. A flatulent corpse who comes back to life at various points throughout the film. I’ve have liked to have heard those conversations!
Those conversations did take place though. Whether new writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert made the calls or not I’m not sure. I wonder who, if anyone, turned the parts down. Anyway, Dano plays Hank. An unhappy, self-loathing man who is castaway somewhere and, just before he’s about to take his own life, a body washes up on shore. This body turns out to be Manny, played by Radcliffe, a flatulent dead body who Hank uses for all sorts of things throughout the film, from a Jet Ski to a cannon. Yes, you read that correctly and I don’t know which to repeat as I’m unsure which is weirder.
To say Swiss Army Man is odd would be a large understatement. At its heart it’s the story of a man who projects himself onto a dead body as a sort of therapy. At least I think that’s what it is about at its heart. It is difficult to say. Just as you think you are getting the measure of the movie and it is becoming normal (normal here being relatively speaking), it sideswipes you with yet another feature from Radcliffe’s corpse character.
There are some funny moments in the film, there are some – actually quite a lot – of gross moments in the film too. Really gross moments. These gross moments start to become a little tiresome after a while and, I guess as you’d expect, bring the tone of the movie down to a low you didn’t think was possible given the subject matter. I suspect if you removed a lot of the gross moments you’d have a much more focussed film, one the critics would like more, particularly if you threw in some lingering shots of trees or something.
But the two Dan’s didn’t do that. They kept the flatulence, they kept the grossness and we end up with a film that is gross, sure, funny and one that is dividing people more than marmite.
This surreal journey that the two go on has to be seen to be believed. Dano pulls off the low-confidence character that we know he can do so well once again. He is superb as Hank. Flipping from troubled man to really troubled man in a short space of time. Radcliffe plays a dead body with aplomb. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write about an actor. Radcliffe is funny, deadpan (excuse the pun) funny and as he comes to life he’s really believable as a dead person who’s come back to life.
There is no doubt that Swiss Army Man is weird, straight up bat-shit crazy. It’s a journey in cinema that some will absolutely hate, others will wonder what on earth they’ve just seen and some will love.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m glad the Dan’s didn’t try to make something too arty as I think that would have been too much. That’s too much from a relative point of view you understand. If you like Dano, if you like Radcliffe (and flatulence) and you cannot think about it all too much, you should at least be able to enjoy it. Otherwise, I’d perhaps see something else.
Oh yes. Don’t mention the penis…