Swiss Army Man is a weird movie. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. We’re talking “Paul Dano rides Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse like a jet ski” weird. And that’s just the opening credits.
You’ve probably heard about the movie by now, how audiences either gave it a standing ovation or walked out when it premiered at Cannes. How it’s been hailed as both “profound” and “profoundly stupid” — by its star himself. And yes, there’s also the whole Harry Potter as a farting corpse thing.
The feature debut from music video directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who go simply by “Daniels”), Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano as Hank, who’s stranded on a deserted island and on the verge of suicide until Radcliffe’s dead body washes ashore and saves him with his super-powered flatulence. And then things really get weird.
You hear a lot about how audiences are sick of all the sequels out there. The reboots. The never-ending franchises. How all we want is an “original” movie. Something new. Something we haven’t already seen a hundred times. And then we all just shrug our shoulders and go see whatever the next superhero movie is.
At a time when Hollywood has becoming increasingly risk-averse, preferring “sure things” like another Bourne movie or Fast and Furious sequel to original ideas, movies like Swiss Army Man — weird little indies that are hard to pin down, let alone market – are increasingly rare. Especially in the summer, when movies are supposed to be all about spectacle. Showing us something we’ve never seen before. Although usually that just means blowing up a new city — say, London this time, instead of Chicago. Maybe even somewhere in South America, if they really want to go outside-the-box.
But Swiss Army Man actually delivers what all those other summer movies only promise. Because, trust us, you’ve definitely never seen anything like this. On its face, the movie sounds like some kind of oddball mashup of Weekend at Bernie’s and Cast Away. But in reality, the gonzo buddy movie is more like a fusion of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, dreamlike and surreal and packed to the brim with bizarre visuals. (Plus, we’re pretty sure Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman never shaved using Terry Kiser’s teeth in the Bernie movies.)
Much like Jonze and Gondry before them, the Daniels honed their filmmaking skills in the music video world (if you haven’t seen their video for “Turn Down for What,” uh, yeah, get on that), a medium that encourages bizarro imagery and dream logic a whole lot more than summer movie season does. And those skills are on full display in Swiss Army Man. In a montage that could easily double as an avant-garde music video, Radcliffe’s Manny quickly turns into Hank’s very own “multi-purpose tool,” acting as a portable water fountain. A scuba suit. A machine gun. Complete with real chopping action and kung-fu grip!
But once you get past the offbeat visuals and fart jokes, there’s actually some surprisingly poignant drama in here too. About what it means to be human. About our connections with other people, both real and imagined. About all the gross and weird and, yes, magical things our bodies can do.
For all intents and purposes, Swiss Army Man is a movie that sounds like it shouldn’t work. (Case in point: the score prominently features a haunting emo cover of “Cotton Eye Joe.”) But when every other summer movie out there feels like the same thing over and over, it’s refreshing to see something so wildly and proudly different. Swiss Army Man crackles with more creativity than the rest of the movies currently in theatres combined. To be fair, not everyone will like it — after all, this is a film where “I think your penis is guiding us home,” is said with a straight face — but if you found yourself laughing and shaking your head in disbelief watching the trailer, you’ll likely do the same at the full movie.
So this holiday weekend, forget Independence Day: Resurgence or whatever half-baked blockbuster you were planning on going to for the industrial-strength AC. If you’re serious about showing Hollywood you want more originality and fewer sequels, go see the most inventive and exciting movie of the summer instead. Yes, the one where Harry Potter farts for 90+ minutes.