Joyce Kim / A24 Films
Life after death takes on a new and incredibly flatulent meaning in “Swiss Army Man,” an unrepentantly weird and endearingly sweet buddy comedy/love story/drama/musical in which one half of the duo happens to be an all-purpose utility corpse. Think a mix of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” “Castaway” and a crushed-up handful of whatever you can find in the medicine cabinet.
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively going by Daniels, “Swiss Army Man” does provide a rudimentary story outline to follow along with, but it’s best not followed all that linearly. Hank, played by Paul Dano, is stranded on a desert isle and about to end his life when he spots a suited figure washed up on the beach. Upon closer inspection, this is Manny, played by a gray-faced and glassy-eyed Daniel Radcliffe, a recently deceased man with inexplicably percussive and unrelenting farts (among other hidden talents).
After using Manny’s fart-propelled body as a jetski to escape the lonely isle, Hank washes up on a different shore and works his way through a forest, hauling his savior along with him. Manny becomes his Wilson as he vents on the complications of the life he’s trying to trek back to. When Manny starts talking back, Hank’s ventings become the basis for his undead friend’s reintroduction to life and all its wonders.
Manny gazes ahead in naivete as Hank runs down rapid pizza box- and plastic bottle-based reconstructions of what it means to live in modern civilization, including the importance of “Jurassic Park” and the flutters that come with falling in love on the bus. “Swiss Army Man” is at its best during these romantic blurs of music and color, which jut by in quick montage-like succession punctuated by Manny’s child-logic questions and Hank’s struggles to escape and accept societal restrictions and loneliness. (The farting ceases during most of these stints thanks to Hank’s clever repurposing of a champagne cork.)
Inexplicability is the key concept to embrace here, both for Hank as a means of survival as he discovers the various life-saving skills his new friend possesses and for the audience as the film plays out. The duo break out into humming and choruses that quickly explode into rapturous celebrations, happening quickly and with enough infectious joy to step over any “Wait, what the hell?” thoughts that might remove a viewer from the experience.
This all may sound unbearably twee, but “Swiss Army Man” has enough unrepentent weirdness to keep it from crossing over into cutesy. Daniels have made a movie brimming with the rediscovery of life — it just so happened that a corpse was the best way to get there.
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