The sheer audacity it takes to convince one of the world’s most famous actors to play a farting corpse is only part of why Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s enchantingly odd survival dramedy works. Driven by two committed performances and plenty of unexpected riffs on the human condition, Swiss Army Man is far more than just a flatulence-riddled attempt by Daniel Radcliffe to further push away from the baggage of Harry Potter.
Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on a beach and, having lost all hope of rescue, prepares to hang himself, but before he can, a corpse washes up on the island (Radcliffe), who Hank takes a peculiar interest in. Soon enough, Hank discovers the body has a number of unexpected uses, and even quickly develops the ability of basic speech. Together, Hank and the corpse, now named Manny, will attempt to figure out the craziness of life and return to civilisation.
Props to Daniel Radcliffe. As brilliant as Dano is in this movie, Radcliffe completely gives himself over to Kwan and Scheinert, playing a speechless, dead husk for large chunks of the movie, and further mussing up the charming image he fashioned, intentionally or not, off the back of the mammoth J.K. Rowling enterprise.
To Radcliffe’s credit, though, he has been chipping away with ambitious, left-field projects for years, and this is just another that proves his versatility and desire to try new things (no doubt a freedom allowed by all that Potter fortune). It may meander at times and feel a little too long at even just 97 minutes, but it’s difficult to look away from Radcliffe’s hilariously unflattering performance, nor Dano’s strong lead work.
While this could easily have coasted on the barmy nuttiness of its concept, the script cleverly holds up a mirror to the strangeness of the human experience; Manny resembles a baby in many ways, soaking up life lessons from Hank that underscore life’s peculiarity, all while recognising the beauty that makes it so worth living.
The home stretch may not appeal to all tastes with its intentional desire to obfuscate logic and skirt around a more generic, predictable resolution, but it remains firmly in tune with the preceding 90 minutes; absurd, hilarious and full of feeling.
Dano and Radcliffe continue to demonstrate their insatiable hunger for startlingly singular filmmaking projects, and what a team they are.
Swiss Army Man is in cinemas and available on VOD now