Bonus Watching: Swiss Army Man (2016)
List Progress: 5/12 (+2)
Swiss Army Man is the Daniel-Radcliffe-farting-boner-corpse movie. I knew that going in, and I thought I knew what to do with that. This, along with the stage production of Equus and the movie Horns, is part of the very small genre of “Daniel Radcliffe is done being Harry Potter, he has all the money and fame in the world, so he’s going to do the weirdest projects he can find and you can’t stop him”, and it’s a genre I respect. Both child stars and actors famous for huge genre roles have a hard time transitioning to other projects, and Daniel Radcliffe is in both categories, so I wish him the best in anything he does from here on out (and I am perversely intrigued by his latest movie, Guns Akimbo). But Swiss Army Man isn’t just weird, it’s bad. Bad, but with just enough flashes of brilliance to be frustrating.
Paul Dano plays Hank, a man stranded on a desert island alone and on the brink of suicide. He is distracted from his grief when a dead body, played by Radcliffe, washes up on shore, and Hank begins to carry it around and talk to it. The body, which eventually is named “Manny”, is not a zombie, he is very much a corpse. But he’s also a corpse with special powers, exemplified early on when Hank uses Manny’s decomposition farts to propel them through the water and he rides Manny like a jet ski. Even when Manny becomes a talking character instead of a prop, he is still very pointedly a dead body that Hank is hauling around on his back and posing as a person. And honestly, I was on board for that premise and excited to see what sort of twisted physical comedy they were able to do with it. But the storyline they decide to wrap this premise around is so bafflingly bad that it feels like they thought “Farting boner corpse!” and then when someone asked the writers what the story was, they had to fake their way through an answer because they didn’t have anything beyond the initial concept.
Hank is an incel. The movie never says so directly, but his main arc is that he has fallen in “love” with a woman he sees on the bus every day but has never spoken to, and becomes so despondent about his lack of love that he went out on the ocean alone and became stranded. He tries to guide Manny through what it means to be a person and to be in love, but it is achingly clear that Hank himself barely knows. Flatulence becomes an overwrought metaphor for how big bad society makes you bottle up your true self, but yes, it is part of being a responsible person in the world to curtail some of your negative impulses out of respect for others. Manny’s post-mortem erection becomes a homing beacon that leads them out of the wilderness (don’t ask), and we are supposed to find it charming or vulnerable that two men are literally letting their libido make their decisions for them.
As my friend put it as we watched this movie in a numb fugue, “the script felt like it was written by a 23 year old, not a day older”. The writing, the physicality, the cinematography, they all had parts that worked (especially the cinematography, this is a shockingly lovely film), but the script was just a slog. And I don’t think it’s just because I disagree with the core message, as I was more often bored than angered. Tales of Man Vs Nature often go for large themes about existence and our core humanity, but this movie elects to follow the smallest, most urban, most modern take possible, and doesn’t even do it well.
I want someone else to take this premise and run with it, because I really do like the idea of a comedy of an isolated person becoming “friends” with a corpse. I would even like Daniel Radcliffe to be that corpse, he did a great job! But man, this is not the movie to fulfill my Daniel Radcliffe Corpse Comedy dreams.
Would I Recommend It: Nooooo.