Friday, July 1, 2016

Indie Review: Swiss Army Man (2016)

                                       (Major spoilers ahead)

      Soooo, I can't really classify what genre this film actually is. Yet that's what makes this one sort of fascinating.

      Swiss Army Man follows the story of a man named Hank (Paul Dano) who is about to hang himself on a deserted beach when he discovers a farting corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who comes to life and slowly recaptures what it means to be human.

      First off, I thought the film's brightest spot is Daniel Radcliffe as Manny. Even as his character mostly mumbles his words and he has the same frozen face throughout, Radcliffe captures a variety of dimensions to his character, ranging from curiosity to optimism to even subtle torment. Also, kudos to Daniel Radcliffe for seeking out smaller interesting material that challenges him as an actor after Harry Potter. As for Paul Dano, though. He's fine. I like how this and Love and Mercy have shown how he's been maturing as an actor. But for me, this is Radcliffe's show.

     As I said in my opening sentence, there isn't really a particular genre I can place this film in yet that's what makes it fascinating. It isn't as if the film doesn't know what it wants to be but instead, it weaves in different genre elements into one. It feels like Cast Away with a corpse yet it is also a bit of a buddy movie about what it means to be human. Throughout the film, Manny is trying go relearn the normal aspects of human life. In particular, how it feels to love and there is even slight homoerotic subtext in the bond between Hank and Manny. There are scenes where Manny talks about how he doesn't know how to masturbate or have relations and in one scene where Manny and Hank are in the water and it looks like Manny is about to drown, Hank kisses him to metaphorically and literally bring him back to life.

      The production design on this film is some of the best I've seen all year. On the little island that Hank and Manny are on, they build replicas of places like a bus and a movie theater and I thought they looked very uncanny.

       There is even a big twist at the very end that caught me by surprised yet it also really lost me. I can't explain why without spoiling it so spoilers ahead. There is a girl that both Hank and Manny are infatuated with named Sarah, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who Manny has pictures of on his phone. But it turns out to only be Hank's phone but it is a woman that Hank doesn't know and is stalking. That is where the film lost me because at the end, it made it difficult for me to sympathize with someone who puts pictures of a strange woman on his phone. Honestly, it almost made me less appreciative of the entire picture and its inventiveness. It just really bothered me.

       Overall, Swiss Army Man is an unorthodox and inventive near gem that features an amazing performance by Daniel Radcliffe as well as lavish production design but it quite bogged down by its unsympathetic ending.

Grade: B