SWISS ARMY MAN Review
Genre: Drama, Comedy
If you consider yourself a movie fan at all, chances are high that you’ve caught wind of that weird movie about Paul Dano and his friendship with Daniel Radcliffe’s farting corpse. You’ve probably even heard more than once that it’s actually pretty good and emotionally engaging. Rest assured, nobody has led you astray — SWISS ARMY MAN really is an exceptionally good film, brimming with warmth, originality, and joyful humor at every turn. What people may have neglected to tell you, however, is what the film and its already apparent success signal about the bright future of millennial independent filmmakers as a generation.
The look of hope and optimism in the 21st century cinematic landscape
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the directing duo behind SWISS ARMY MAN, affectionately referred to as Daniels, do not have what one could call a “normal” career trajectory. The pair gained a certain level of film festival attention for their short film “Interesting Ball,” but truly gained internet notoriety for their ludicrous, hyper-sexualized music video for the DJ Snake song “Turn Down for What.” The video established their unabashedly silly sensibility and surprisingly effective visual style, and served as a calling card as they were securing financing for SWISS ARMY MAN.
While the music video was wildly successful with half a billion views on Youtube, there obviously exists a large portion of studio executives over a certain age who were guaranteed to be dumbfounded by it, and to equally be incapable of seriously considering even reading a script from the pair. Additionally, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to doubt the directing prowess of filmmakers who had previously only made shorts and television episodes. How could viral, borderline memester directors possibly be expected to make a Very Serious Art Film?
Art is hard and requires determination and grit
By intentionally not making a Very Serious Art Film at all, obviously. What really makes SWISS ARMY MAN such a potent film to experience is its uncompromising willingness to embrace its own absurdity and to take its audience along for the ride. The film begins with Paul Dano, playing the character Hank, stranded on a desert island, about to hang himself out of desperation, when he suddenly spots Daniel Radcliffe’s body washed up on the beach in front of him. There’s no explanation as to how Hank came to be on the island, and mere minutes after encountering Radcliffe’s farting corpse, Hank is riding it like a pair of jet skis to escape the island, propelled by Radcliffe’s farts. Purists may try to label this as shoddy storytelling, but it actually is incredibly economical at establishing tone, character, and setting. The film is a perfect case study in the suspension of disbelief. Daniels establish their rules just enough without over explaining them, and keep them consistent in such a way that we as an audience are thrilled to be along for the ride, rather than having the time to second-guess them.
A perfect optical illusion: Where some people see a masterful image, other people see ignorant garbage
As Hank treks through the woods with the corpse he comes to know as Manny, the two form a tight bond. Hank can conveniently manipulate Manny into doubling as whatever gadget is necessary to survive the wilderness. Again, naysayers may see this as a lazy plot device, but Daniels manage to find ways to constantly reinvent the rules of what Manny’s corpse can do in a manner that follows a logical progression, even if it is inherently silly and fantastical. SWISS ARMY MAN is effective because it doesn’t try to concern itself with the trivial hows of its story and wisely chooses to focus on the emotional whys of its characters instead. Hank readily acknowledges that he may simply be hallucinating the whole experience, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling any more real to him, nor to us as an audience by extension. Hank uses Manny not only as a tool to solve his practical concerns, but also as a therapeutic tool for overcoming the things which keep him emotionally cut off as well.
The film’s plot routinely progresses through regular use of montages of highly original and captivating imagery, accompanied by the film’s lighthearted yet surprisingly effective score. Daniels don’t try to hide their music video background, in fact they actively embrace it as part of their signature style. That might be why the only other film SWISS ARMY MAN really feels comparable to is Spike Jonze’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, another film by a former music video director, which delighted in exuberant montages set to delightful music in a fantastic, untamed setting. Daniels are not ashamed of any part of their history as filmmakers, which is fitting for a film that’s largely about embracing one’s inner strangeness and loving it for what it is.
The look of self-love
This is not a film that should exist at all; it defies all conventions of the traditional process and business of Hollywood that such a film even got made, let alone that it turned out as well as it did. Daniels may be some of the first true millennial filmmakers, directors who got their start on the internet and made a film which, to some extent, reflects internet culture. Even more importantly, however, is the fact that a film with such a wantonly stupid premise got made. Millennials are often belittled for being the generation that were too routinely told that we could be whatever we wanted to be, and create whatever we wanted to create, and for being stupid enough to actually believe that could be true. Daniels stand out as an example of this being the case, they got to make exactly the dumb movie they wanted to make, and created something poignant and hysterical in the process. Much like BONNIE AND CLYDE once shocked an older generation and captivated a younger one, SWISS ARMY MAN stands a chance at serving as a crackling spark of genuine creativity to an entire new audience. A world where SWISS ARMY MAN is allowed to flourish is a great world indeed.