I’ve been giddy in anticipation over Swiss Army Man since Sundance, where the “farting corpse jet ski tale” scored good buzz while reportedly “prompt(ing) walkouts” and presumably much pearl-clutching. I celebrated when this polarizing pic scored a distribution deal that assured A24 would bring it to theaters near me. I watched and rewatched the trailer, intensely longing for this unusual tale of boy-meets-corpse bromance. I heralded its weird exposition anthem as song of the summer, and I even got to get up close and personal with two of the film’s stars. And yet, I worried.
By the time I finally sat down to see this comedy from the writing/directing duo known as The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), my anticipation was edged with doubt. Could Swiss Army Man live up to the hype I myself helped create? Or would it be all scatological humor and no heart? Well, I’m absolutely ecstatic to report this gross-out bromance brings ample amounts of both!
I fucking love this movie.
Paul Dano stars as Hank, a desperately lonely man, stranded on a desert island. Poor Hank is on the brink of suicide when he sees Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a blue-skinned corpse in a business suit, washed up by the tide. Much like the volleyball Wilson became a crucial companion to Tom Hank’s hero in Castaway, Manny—farting, rotting “pile of shit” that he is—is transformed by Hank’s need for a friend. And Manny is a wonderful friend. When Hank needs water, Manny sprays it from his mouth. When Hank needs a shave, Manny volunteers his teeth as a makeshift razor. When Hank needs a compass, Manny’s boner proves pivotal. And when Hank needs a confidante, Manny begins to speak.
Where Hank is riddled with insecurities and paralyzed with fear of what others might think, Manny is guileless and frank. He’s a blank slate that begs to be filled in on a world he can’t remember, asking the important questions like: What is home? What is life? What is Netflix?
Employing a charming ingenuity and the uninhabited landscape’s plethora of pizza boxes, empty bottles, and abandoned Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions, Hank constructs a Sweded version of the modern world for Manny. Complete with sets, characters, and even a love interest, this DIY reality brings the dead man back to life in staggering stages. In all this, there is a beautiful whimsy, mixed with unapologetic body humor. Boners, poop, and farts are all key plot points. But somehow The Daniels make these disgusting markers fun instead of flat-out nauseating. (For comparison, Neighbors 2 is more graphically gross.) Indeed, farts become a metaphor for feelings, as a wounded Manny wonders without malice, “If my best friend keeps his farts from me, what else is he hiding from me?”
Swiss Army Man is a sweet and surreal story about friendship. But more than that, it’s about the life-changing joy of finding someone who is weird in the same way you are. Hank is so crippled by his shame of being “weird,” that he ran away, ending up in a dire situation with a corpse as his best friend. But Manny understands Hank, and accepts him for all his hang-ups and weirdness. And as they discuss farts and poop as metaphors for connecting to other people, I actually teared up.
Here’s where I digress with a personal anecdote. A few years ago, my cousin—who is whip-smart and clever beyond her years—was entering kindergarten. At a family reunion, I asked her how school was going. Her happy-go-lucky smile dropped as she hung her head and confessed—eyes on her flower-covered sneakers—“The kids call me weird.” I tried to rally her with tickling, saying, “You are weird! And that’s great!” And she slapped my hands away with a choked, “The other kids don’t think weird is great!”
Now what do you say to that?
I told her it’d get better. It did for me. I was able to find friends who were my brand of weird. Among them, I was no longer a freak. And watching Swiss Army Man, I was thrown full-body back into the shuddering joy of that discovery, that inclusion, that sense of community, that love and acceptance.
On a surface level, Swiss Army Man is an intoxicatingly ludicrous and hilarious comedy, stuffed with pop culture references, scatological gags, and some surprisingly wry observational humor about society and stigma. But beneath this goofy exterior is an inspiring and heartwarming story about human connection and the power of friendship. Dano and Radcliffe create a complicated and compelling bond that is radiant and rousing.
Story-wise, it’s a bit like E.T., where a lonely boy finds his own worth through an unconventional friendship. But deliciously deranged and brazenly bizarre, Swiss Army Man sets itself apart as an ardent love letter to weirdos, telling us that the world may not always get you, but there are always those that will. And if that’s a message that makes your weird little heart skip a beat, than this crass and crazy comedy is for you.
As Radcliffe told a bus full of buzzed journalists, “(Swiss Army Man) is a movie that’s not for everybody. But the people it is for have been waiting for it, and maybe not knowing they have been waiting for it.”
And he’s right. You’ll either be repulsed and walk out, or stand up and cheer, freak flag waving proudly. For me, Swiss Army Man is not just one of my favorite films of 2016, but one of my favorite films ever.