It’s a love story like any other. Well, okay, not really. Firstly, I must give credit where it’s due; Swiss Army Man is a unique black comedy featuring a pair of completely committed performances from its leads. Unfortunately, I suppose that I just don’t quite share the same sense of humor as the filmmakers. While the plot is novel, the movie itself ultimately isn’t witty enough to recommend.
The story relays a very simple message, although it’s presented in the oddest possible way. This is a tale that promotes the power and importance of love and companionship, no matter what unusual form it may take. In this case, the primary relationship exists between a suicidal loner named Hank (Paul Dano) who is stranded on seemingly deserted island and a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that washes up onshore.
Identifying the corpse as Manny, Hank is inspired by his new compatriot to survive. The deadpan humor involves the survivor using the body as a water reservoir as well as to chop items and build structures. More ridiculously, its teeth are used as a makeshift razor blade and most impressively, Hank rides Manny like a flatulence powered jet-ski. Some of the scenarios earn a chuckle, others fall silent (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Thankfully, Radcliffe is eventually given the opportunity to speak, albeit in a slurred and stuttered manner. Soon the pair discuss personal matters, including Hank’s unrequited love for a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he’s seen on the bus. As the protagonist opens up, he defines societal cues and rules to Manny, even though the ideas are often questioned by his extremely unwell companion. The cast help considerably. This would all be unendurable without the stellar work of Dano, who makes his mentally unstable lead somewhat relatable, and Radcliffe, who does his best to make the most out of a physically challenging and limited role.
As implied previously, there are a lot of fart jokes. In fact, an unending number of them. It seems to almost border on obsessive. The body continually makes expunging sounds throughout the film. A good gas gag is fine, but there’s such a repetitiveness to the body shaking and quaking that it loses much of its appeal quickly… before becoming tedious. Admittedly though, I will give Manny’s final and perhaps most forceful squeak some props as being memorable (if strangely inappropriate for an ending that veers more in the direction of drama than comedy).
Sure, it’s bold, but at the end of the day it feels like a novelty; one that I didn’t chuckle at more than a handful of times, perhaps once every fifteen minutes or so. It’s pretty easy to see where the story is eventually going and the attempts at more pensive drama never quite resonate. In fact, some of the reactions and behavior of characters close to the end of the film felt really unbelievable, even for a story with already odd and eccentric leads.
This is a project that really feels like a couple of friends who love fart jokes and the movie Cast Away got together (possibly drank some beers) and somehow whittled a feature out of it. Thanks to its cast it’s about as good a film as it can probably be with that kind of subject matter. However, in the end it’s not quite funny enough and the idea itself is too drawn out to really justify a full-length movie. Truthfully, one’s reaction will likely be dependent on your particular sense of humor, but for this reviewer Swiss Army Man needed a bit more comedic luster.