If you saw an ad for Swiss Army Man, you would get a clear idea of how weird it all will play out to be but what you made of the ads will decide in the end what you think of the final product. I was never particularly expecting much because I found the trailers to be ridiculous (and not in the good manner at that) and who knew, my reaction to the actual film was no different. There’s a level to which I can appreciate weirdness and ridiculousness on film but the delivery presented by Swiss Army Man was so juvenile in the worst sense – it’s a case in which weirdness just fills up the entire hour and a half long running time but in the very end, it achieves nothing for it relishes inside its own quirkiness for no other reason than just to be quirky.
The basic premise of Swiss Army Man centers upon how we see Paul Dano’s Hank discovering a dead body washed up on the shore of a deserted island. This corpse, filled with nothing else other than excessive flatulence, is named Manny, and he is portrayed by none other than Daniel Radcliffe. The two of them form an extremely odd sort of friendship, if you can call it that, from how Manny carries a number of odd powers which range from being a source of drinkable water or moving as fast as a jet ski, and soon Hank begins to share his own insecurities together with this odd new companion whom he has made. It starts off so simply with that outlining, but as the film went on, it progressed into something that was either annoying or cringeworthy at moments in which it intends to be much more than it looks.
Once you get a grasp of the idea which Swiss Army Man runs on, it ends up getting old rather fast. The film’s humour consists of jokes that involve the “living” aspects to Manny, which range from flatulence to erections, and when it hits either end of that bar, it only makes for something all the more irritating. We get the idea that the film is resorting to juvenile humour in order to become something more meaningful, but this usage never showed much of a sign that it was being particularly clever with what it was setting up. The humour is so rarely ever actually funny, as instead it revels in this only to show off how weirdly anything on the screen can come off to be and when it does any of that to be more meaningful, it only began to induce more eye rolls.
Now when I mention that moments of Swiss Army Man want to be all the more meaningful, that’s the basic problem that pervades. The content of the film is so detached from the message it wants to create and thus it becomes something all the more eye roll-inducing. If that was not bad enough, the film only presents more questionable choices with how the story flows as it also carries an overly ambiguous tone that is ultimately the film’s biggest downfall, especially in the third act. The film reveals another shift that comes out of nowhere, and it was at this moment where the film’s message falls apart. It broke away from the idea that the film was trying to embrace the whole time and it was sooner I realized that with how much had been established with the ridiculousness of its content, there was nothing in the end that it ever had managed to accomplish as it was busy reveling in how quirky it is, a common tendency for indie films that quickly gets on my nerves.
With the good majority of what Swiss Army Man was creating only coming to annoy me to pieces, there at least were admirable things to come out from the performances of both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. If something at least managed to keep me watching during the onslaught of farting jokes and erection jokes, the chemistry that the companionship between the two of them was interesting in the sense that where it took both characters further up the story had some interesting moments presented even if the good majority was merely nothing more than flatulence or erection jokes that apparently try to be more.
Swiss Army Man reminds me of the sort of weirdness that only annoys my sensibilities while it goes on. There are some good moments that arise, but they are far too sporadic and they never amount to enough in order to sustain the running time, for it only crumbles all the more. It all plays out as if it were just being weird for the sake of weird, not doing anything particularly clever with the ridiculousness it is taking pride in. At the very least Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano are entertaining, but by the end of the film, it is what it always was on the surface level. And at that, it’s all one glaringly long eye roll.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay by Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Produced by Eval Rimmon, Lauren Mann, Lawrence Inglee, Jonathan Wang, Miranda Bailey, Amanda Marshall
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 97 minutes