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Swiss Army Man

There’s more to this funny, touching and occasionally thoughtful film than just a farting corpse

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This film, like one of its two characters, floats into theaters on a wave of critical WTFs from its premiere at Sundance. There, it was quickly pegged “the farting corpse movie starring the guy from Harry Potter,” and that’s not inaccurate; it was polarizing, finding both viewers who loved it and detractors who found it ridiculous. Nonetheless, it took the Jury Prize for Best Directing. That award went to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who co-wrote and co-directed.

The film begins on deserted island, where its sole inhabitant, Hank (Paul Dano) is setting up a rope to hang himself. Just then, he spies a body washing up in the surf and investigates. It’s a dead man (Daniel Radcliffe), but one who won’t stop farting. This … um … feature turns out to be beneficial to Hank’s survival, and he decides to take the body with him. In time, he teaches the dead man to speak, names it Manny and cultivates a provocative relationship with him.

Manny turns out to be a better castaway companion than Tom Hanks’ volleyball; among other things, he’s a bit of a naïf, asking Hank all sorts of questions about life, love and how things work. This not only precipitates the film’s amazing middle section (the less said about it the better), but also lets Hank (and us) work through all the problems that led to his almost-suicide. Both actors totally commit to these roles, with Radcliffe doing some fantastic physical work to be believable as a body awkwardly inhabiting the space between life and death.

Swiss Army Man is an original work, even as it is comprised of familiar pieces: It’s a buddy comedy; a drama exploring some deeply sad places in the human condition; a fantasy (with some set pieces that recall Michel Gondry’s work); an extended allegory; an existential rumination; a descent into madness (or out of it); and a how-to guide for the usefulness of a corpse. It’s totally bizarre, but also makes perfect sense; it’s silly but serious.

And it is, unsurprisingly, another movie to be filed under “not for everyone.” But if you dig absurdist tales, would appreciate a fresh work over another summer sequel and, like it or loathe it, can respect the filmmakers’ singular vision, then don’t miss this one.

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