The NZ International Film Festival has offered film-goers some weird choices, but it seems safe to say there will be no crazier film this year involving marquee actors than this existential love story. And maybe none more beautiful, either.
Almost everyone who heard of Swiss Army Man in the months leading up to the NZIFF has probably heard the surreal comedy referred to as “the farting-corpse movie.”
The film, which was written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (a.k.a. “the Daniels” of music video fame), is unsurprisingly a highly distinctive piece of work, and one which marries gorgeous cinematography with a surprisingly touching tale of finding comfort in one’s own skin. Drawing on the work of Michel Gondry, the pair make ample use of their imaginations and visual talents, managing to turn a morbid premise – a suicidal castaway who is tasked with convincing a dead body that it’s worth living – into a deeply affecting and unique love story.
The wonderful Paul Dano is Hank, marooned on a remote Pacific Ocean isle, who has come to realize that no one is coming to rescue him. He’s prepared to take desperate measures to end his loneliness — until the day a corpse, played by Daniel Radcliffe, washes ashore (I can only imagine how his agent pitched that role to him).
Hank becomes involved with the stiff he calls “Manny,” in inventively weird ways that seriously need to be seen to be believed. It all makes for the strangest of bromances, one that’s destined to divide audiences, as happened at the film’s Sundance premiere back in January. There were more than a few walkouts.
No sensibilities are spared as Hank makes use of Manny’s surprising dead-guy talents, which include excessive flatulence that allows him to be ridden like a JetSki and handy skills at providing water and starting fires. I’ll let you figure out how Manny is used as a compass.
When Manny begins to shows signs of an after-death personality — which leaves you wondering if this is a ‘Walking Dead’ thing or a ‘Hank’s going crazy’ thing — all bets are off as to where this story is headed. But it’s impossible not to get caught up in it, even if you’re being simultaneously repelled.
Dano and Radcliffe throw themselves into their roles with admirable aplomb. That’s why Swiss Army Man works—from the gassy opening minutes, it’s a film asking the viewer to meet it on its own terms, and its winning performers make for ideal ambassadors.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Screening at the NZ International Film Festival. 97 minutes.
- Inventive and Whismical
- Committed performances
- Great cinematography
- Uneven plotting
- Somewhat detached