Some believe that your life flashes before your eyes as you're about to die. Paul Dano isn't so lucky in Swiss Army Man. As the bedraggled Hank prepares to hang himself on the desert island that looks to be his final resting place, he notices a body that's just washed ashore. Might this be some kind of rescue, or at least a companion? Checking the body (Daniel Radcliffe) for vital signs, he hears something rumbling within: a long, deep fart. "That's funny," he says quietly, hopelessly.
What Hank thought would be his salvation is instead some kind of cosmic joke. Despondent, he launches into a monologue about the cruelty of existence that, just as it's about to reach its crescendo, is interrupted by an even louder, longer fart emanating from the decomposing carcass we'll soon come to know as Manny.
It's about this time that 90 percent of viewers will have made up their minds about Swiss Army Man. If your sense of humor is as unrefined as mine, you might find yourself crying with laughter and curious to see how co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels) can possibly improve on it.
The unabashed stupidity of this opening sequence is a marvel of go-for-broke surrealism that keeps one-upping itself; it ends, inevitably, with Hank riding Manny like a jet ski, the duo propelled away from the island by the power of Manny's flatulence. Maybe this really is salvation.
It's also Swiss Army Man's high point, as everything that follows — the boilerplate bromance, the life-affirming musings, the music video-like montages — feels par for the course even when done well. Manny slowly regains semi-sentience, not quite alive but not fully dead, and so it falls on his suicidal traveling partner to teach the reanimated corpse the facts of life as they make their way back to civilization.
The novelty of seeing Harry Potter himself as a blue, rotting corpse who asks childlike questions about masturbation and romance takes a while to wear off. By the time it does, Swiss Army Man's morbidity has manifested itself as something more serious — and less singularly weird.
The Daniels fare best when immersing us in moment-to-moment oddity and infantile inventiveness: Hank trying to help Manny remember who he might have been by dressing up as a pretty girl he vaguely recalls; Hank using the corpse's boner as an eerily accurate compass. Kwan and Scheinert are also veteran directors of music videos, and their talent for pairing music and images lends the sentimental proceedings an air of dreamy pathos. (For their efforts, the two were awarded a directing prize at Sundance.)
The half-dead duo at the center of this film is bursting with joie de vivre, making Swiss Army Man life-affirming in a way that feels unique among its peers. Radcliffe, limited in speech and mobility, strikes an endearing, empathetic figure; Dano, who's felt overextended in films like Prisoners and Youth, is a solid straight man here. The line between moronic and brilliant has rarely been finer than it is in Swiss Army Man, which is surprisingly fleet of foot in navigating it — especially considering one of its two leads can't actually walk.
Swiss Army Man
Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert