It’s said that co-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert pitched Swiss Army Man to the film’s two lead stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, as a film where ‘the first fart will make you laugh, and the last fart will make you cry’. Sounds mightily ambitious, and completely insane – but somehow – yes, somehow – they’ve only gone and managed it.
We first meet Hank (Dano) as he readies himself for suicide. Tightening the noose the isolated man, stranded on a deserted island, is interrupted at the sight of what appears to be a body washed up on the beach. Putting his own death on hold, he approaches the lifeless corpse, which he affectionately names Manny (Radcliffe), to then do something that will surprise anybody watching: he mounts himself on the back of the dead body, pulls down his trousers so just the latter’s arse is showing, and then like a jet-ski engine, he rides Manny on the sea’s surface, with farting powering the journey.
When they return it turns out Manny has more than just the one party trick, for he talks too – providing a shoulder to cry on, and also on hand to give some some important romantic advice, as Hank vies to make his way back home, and muster up the confidence to finally confront his crush Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and tell her how he truly feels.
As you can probably tell, Swiss Army Man is unlike anything you’ll have witnessed before, and in many ways, it’s just 97 minutes worth of proof that farts are always funny. But there’s more to this than mere gas, with a quite remarkable leading turn by Dano, who has this eccentricity to his demeanour, a vacancy behind his eyes that makes for an unhinged protagonist, and yet one who remains wholly empathetic throughout – which is not an easy balance to achieve. Even Radcliffe, tasked with acting lifeless for the best part of this movie, matches his co-star throughout – and between them the pair evoke a remarkable balance of comedy and pathos, which transcends this tale from being so much more than just toilet humour – even if, 99% of the time, it’s just that.
But it’s the sheer level of poignancy which allows Swiss Army Man to truly come into its element. It’s a film that is spiked with a degree of profundity, enriched by a deep sadness that runs right the way through this narrative. It’s hilarious in parts; it’s moving and it’s provocative. And it’s about farting. Just give these directors all the Oscars. Seriously.