Hank (Paul Dano) is a man stranded on a deserted island, until he finds a corpse floating in the water. Hank names the corpse Manny. (Daniel Radcliffe) Hank discovers he can talk to Manny, and that Manny’s continued flatulence moves them from one side of the island to the other. The gas can even scare off bears. The more Hank talks to Manny, the more alive Manny becomes. When Hank starts talking to Manny about a girl named Sarah, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Manny really starts to perk up. The more Hank talks to Manny, the closer they become, but whose girlfriend is Sarah? And will the friendship that has developed between Hank and Manny disappear because of Sarah? Do Hank and Manny make it off the island?
Swiss Army Man is a bizarre movie if taken literally, a man stranded on an island talking to a corpse and the corpse starts to talk back. But if taken as a metaphor about friendship or love it starts to make sense, Hank either loves himself enough to will himself out of his current circumstances or he loves Sarah enough to brighten his current circumstances. The movie is obviously about love, either love of a friend or love of a girl than may rescue a person from the direst of circumstances. I’d like to give the movie that much credit, but it is far too juvenile for long stretches to deserve that sort of credit. It’s overreliance on flatulence as a plot device, its incessant talk of masturbation, and erections make it seem like Swiss Army Men was written by a pair of teenagers. And of course there are gay overtones in the friendship between Manny and Hank, because men can’t just be friends right? The final nail in this movie’s coffin is the idiotic M. Knight Shyamalan nothing-is-as-it-appears to-be- ending. This movie took a good premise and wrecked it.
The performances are good. Dano is good as a lonely guy on the verge of suicide, who just needs someone to love him. He conveys a sense of shy desperation well. Daniel Radcliffe is very good, despite being given some very awkward dialogue. He is the human Swiss Army knife a multi-use instrument used to survive a desperate situation. He is friend, rival, and love interest all rolled into one, and he has to do it with the constraints of acting like a corpse. This is also about as far away from Harry Potter as Radcliffe can get, so give him credit for taking risks. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is woefully underused in this film as Sarah, it’s a shame, because she has become one of my favorite new actresses.
The direction is ok for a movie with such a small budget, there is a sense of whimsy in some of the sequences where Hank experiences love, but the island scenes are pretty pedestrian, and the pacing is pretty slow for such a short film, barely over 90 minutes. The performances are good, but I don’t know if the credit belongs to the actors or the director.
Swiss Army Man: A sometimes cutting satire.