‘Yes, this is the film where Harry Potter plays a farting corpse’ – MacDara Conroy on Swiss Army Man
Yes, this is the film where Harry Potter plays a farting corpse. There’s no getting away from it: Daniel Radcliffe is in the supporting role of an ostensibly deceased man in the pre-rigor mortis state of decomposition, his body animated by the generation of gasses within his fermenting organs. These gasses that are, in turn, expelled from the body in generally comedic fashion, though I use the term ‘comedic’ fairly loosely.
Radcliffe is the titular Swiss Army Man (though the script prefers the more generic ‘multifunctional tool’) for damaged desert-island loner Hank, played by Paul Dano. Hank’s the kind of character you could imagine Shia LaBeouf doing well, had he not gone off the deep end with his (wink, wink) performance art schtick. That should tell you everything.
A clearly disturbed individual, who first encounters Radcliffe’s lifeless body on the beach while attempting suicide, Hank makes an instant attachment to the corpse; in the parlance of the Tom Hanks flick Castaway, to which his name must be a nod, he ‘Wilsons’ the dead man, who names himself Manny. Did I mention that this stiff can talk? Did I also mention that this stiff gets a stiffy that acts like a compass directing this oddest of odd couples towards their salvation in the arms of a woman on a bus (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that Hank basically cyber-creeped? Or that he spews a near limitless supply of fresh water from his mouth? Or that he turns into a jet ski?
Music video directors turned first-time feature makers The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) have filled their debut feature with these and more oddball, wackadoo notions, but there’s a fine line between the surreal and the stupid, and Swiss Army Man falls on the wrong side of it far more often than not.
It clearly wants to be a film that means something: about attachment, about loneliness, about the compulsions and complications of the mind. Yet those issues have to come with scatological preoccupations that undercut every moment when things threaten to get a bit too serious, as if seriousness is such a bad thing. Maybe it is to hipsters or millennials or whatever social tribe this film is aimed at; the twee indie soundtrack gives some indication. Maybe they think this film is ‘lit’, as the kids say today. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable lighting anything around so many farts.
Swiss Army Man pretends to be profound, in that archly dismissive, detached kind of way. It’s really all spun out from a single stoned-out idea: like, what if everybody farted in front of each other, maaaaan? Somehow that gives The Daniels (ugh, the more I hear it in my head the more precious it becomes) licence to plumb the depths of gross-out humour, under the guise of ‘reclaiming’ it or some such nonsense, while at the same time drizzling in a few genuinely touching, revealing moments.
But the overriding mode is hipster irony in extremis. This movie sees irony, barrels straight through it, then farts in its general direction. Yes that’s a Monty Python reference, and it’s worth pointing out that those chaps weren’t above the odd gross-out gag. In fact they’re responsible for one of the most notorious, involving a certain Mr Creosote (‘waffer-thin mint’ and all that). Difference is, the Pythons didn’t linger on those moments of crudity. The Daniels, however? Their film does nothing but linger, like a bad smell — a fart, perhaps. And a real stinker it is, too.
Swiss Army Man opens in selected cinemas across Ireland on Friday September 30th
Also published on Medium.