I didn’t know what to think of Swiss Army Man when I saw the trailer, and now that I’ve seen it, I still don’t know how I feel. I had heard that people walked out of the Sundance screening, but who actually trusts people who go to Sundance? If anything, that made me think the movie probably wasn’t as weird or bad as I people claimed. I was deeply incorrect. While I’m still sort of processing my feelings (even though it’s been two weeks since I saw it), I’m pretty sure I didn’t hate it… but I have no interest in watching it ever again. It is every bit as weird as you have imagined. Actually, scratch that. It’s much weirder.
Completely stranded on a desert island, Hank (Paul Dano) is right in the middle of hanging himself when he sees a body washed up on shore (Daniel Radcliffe). Thinking the man may be alive, Hank rushes over to him and is dismayed to find out, not only is he dead, but he can’t stop farting. After going through his pockets, Hank discovers that the body’s farts are so strong, he can ride him like a jetski and the farts will propel them forward. So he does that. After triumphantly riding through the waves he ends up on what appears to be another possibly deserted island. Dragging the body through the brush, he finds out that the dead body can talk… kind of. He’s not only limited to talking. He can shoot things out of his mouth like a pellet gun. His upper body can be pulled back and then released to chop things in half and his boner is essentially sonar. He falls in love with a photo of a girl we see on Hank’s slowly dying cell phone and Hank uses that love (and the sonar boner) to attempt to find civilization.
I swear to god none of that is a joke. Actually, that’s just the tip of the weird iceberg. So much absolutely strange stuff happens I can’t even begin to explain it all. Some of it is wildly funny. There were definitely parts in the movie where I found myself cackling with joy. But even with its fairly standard run time, the fart and boner jokes did start to wear thin. Not to mention the touching scenes, the scenes that were supposed to make you cry, felt schlocky and cheap. What saved it was that the cinematography was gorgeous. Every shot was lush and full of life. The scenes were Dano is riding Radcliffe like a jet ski are magnificent. For a movie that feels like a joke, it’s really well done.
And that’s really the vibe I walked away with after the movie. It was hard to pinpoint, but it feels like two friends, two really good friends, came up with a long and ridiculous joke. They loved it. It made them laugh. It made them feel good. And after joking about it for a while, they realized they had the means to make their joke feel that much more alive by turning it into a feature-length film. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it doesn’t make a great movie. It just doesn’t.