There’s more than a faint echo of “South Park” in “Swiss Army Man”, the feature debut from writer/director duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. And like “South Park”, its sharp insightfulness has been unfairly obscured by a focus on its deceptively juvenile sense of humour.
Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself marooned on a tiny pacific island. Having lost all hope of rescue, Hank decides to kill himself, only to be interrupted by a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washing up on shore. Desperate for any kind of companionship, Hank develops an unlikely and surreally impossible friendship with ‘Manny’, discovering that he can use the cadaver in a myriad of useful survival situations – like a Swiss Army knife.
There’s no denying the central premise of “Swiss Army Man” is a bizarre and surreal one, yet if you can make the leap of faith it requires, the film rewards you with a hilarious, genuinely sweet and even romantic story of friendship and humanity. Bolstered by a strong turn from Dano and a frankly astonishing performance from Radcliffe, the story works its premise into a tender and surprisingly poignant exploration of alienation, loneliness and unrequited love without ever really tipping its hand as to what is real and what is fantasy. As Manny slowly reanimates and his friendship with Hank deepens, the sheer lunacy of the film’s central conceit melts away thanks to the warmth of the lead actors’ chemistry, the dreamy quality of the Daniels’ direction and a script which balances pathos and whimsy in equal measure.
Weird, whacky and wonderful in equal measure, “Swiss Army Man” is an unlikely but strong contender for date movie of the year. Suffice to say if your significant other can embrace the humanity and emotional core in spite of (or maybe because of) navigational boners and farting corpses, then they’re definitely a keeper.