You’re stranded on a desert island. What items do you want with you? A fully charged mobile phone? Eight classic records that remind you of your youth? How about the bloated, washed-up corpse of Daniel Radcliffe, inexplicably still talking, offering you desperately needed companionship and evacuating his gaseous bowels in realistic corpse-like fashion with enough speed to use him as a morbid makeshift jetski?
That question, posed by writers and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert in Swiss Army Man, was enough to send audience members running at the film’s Sundance Festival premiere in January, with many exiting the screening long before the end of its 97-minute runtime. They made a huge mistake.
‘Radcliffe and Dano find a way to tread through constant fart and dick jokes with a compelling, heartbreaking fragility’
In many ways, Swiss Army Man’s humour about matches that of a bunch of sniggering fourteen-year-old boys. Its cinematography borders just on the wrong side of a Mumford and Sons music video (unsurprising, since this is the school of filmmaking from which the Daniels originate), while our hero, Hank (Paul Dano), teeters on the edge between loveable loser and irredeemable creep. And yet, despite – or even because of – all this, the film pulls through as one of the most disarmingly charming of 2016. Radcliffe and Dano find a way, somehow, to tread through constant fart and dick jokes with a compelling, heartbreaking fragility. Manny’s (Radcliffe) post-mortem amnesia sees Hank deconstructing and explaining the basics of humanity – love, buses, erections, shame – in a way that’s simultaneously hilarious and life-affirming. Its soundtrack, partly performed by the co-stars themselves, is woven beautifully and inventively through the onscreen action.
Although at times the film finds itself dragging and grating – perhaps the result of stretching what is essentially a cute, funny premise for a maybe-viral Vimeo short into a feature-length adventure epic, with added soul-searching and inspirational dialogue – it emerges as a must-see. Strangely touching and delightfully twisted, Swiss Army Man tests its viewers to the limits, and rewards them ten times over for sticking through.
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