Swiss Army Man

July 2, 2016 at 10:51 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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Where does one begin? This is a film about the friendship between Hank (Paul Dano), an isolated castaway on the verge of suicide, and Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a flatulent corpse that washes up on his beach. Yeah… exactly. This is truly one of the more bizarre films I have ever seen, but, what starts out as an “I can’t help but watch this car wreck unfold,” slowly becomes something genuinely mesmerizing, sweet and even insightful. This is due, in large part, to the fine acting of the two men who are virtually the only actors in the entire movie. Dano has long established himself as a fine actor who is willing to take on daring fare (think of “There Will Be Blood” and “L.I.E.”). His Hank is so gentle and vulnerable and injured that you can believe the evolution of his “friendship” with Manny. That he can make the preposterous seem possible, is a testament to his skill. In the past, I have had my doubts about Radcliffe, going so far as to claim in 2012 that “I could see the veins in his head positively pulsing with the effort of trying to [act]… It would appear he is not a natural (like young Dekota Fanning) but rather he will carve for himself a set of skills through sheer force of will.” Yet, nothing seemed forced in this performance. In what must have been an incredibly challenging roll, Radcliffe was able to give himself completely to the character. This performance has changed my perspective on his as an actor. Those of you who have been following me for a while will know that I value almost nothing more in a film than being surprised. I see so many movies that I often can guess during the opening credits where a film is going to roughly end up. Now, if the acting or script or something else is good enough, then I don’t mind that journey. But, when I can truly sit in an audience in sheer uncertainty, wonder and bafflement, that is a genuinely unique pleasure for me. Very few movies truly push the boundaries of their genre; to some degree, “Anomalisa” did it last year; “The Act of Killing” definitely did it in 2013. Yet neither is quite as bizarre (or sure to offend) as “Swiss Army Man.” However, I caution you against judging this film cavalierly. It is many things, but it is not glib. This is the first full-length film by writers/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who are credited in the film simply as “Daniels,” and they clearly have something deeper they are trying to say underneath all of the bathroom humor. In fact, the heart of this film is one about acceptance for one’s self, first of all, but then for the fragility that lies in all of humanity. If you listen deeply enough you’ll find that, under the brash, discordant notes of its surface, you’ll hear a sweet and melocholy cry to just be wholly, transparently, unabashedly yourself. It is such a touching message, told in such a shocking, unconventional way. How could I not love that?

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