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Review: Swiss Army Man

There's an initial strangeness in seeing SOS messages scrawled on old tin cans and chip bags -- messages like "Help" and "I was on a boat and got lost" and "I AM SO BORED". The idea of needing to send for help in a place that there is so much garbage triggers wonder at what kind of "alone" this stranger really is.


That stranger is Hank (Paul Dano), a young man who has run away from home and gotten himself stranded on an island. Just as he is about to give up and end his own life, he sees a body in the distance; and though it is a dead body washed up on shore (played by Daniel Radcliffe), this corpse seems to have some magical qualities which Hank is not sure are real or if he's just hallucinating from starvation. It starts with a fart -- a really, really long fart -- that prevents Hank from killing himself, and continues with various functions that should never come from a dead body, until finally, the dead body speaks. And his name is Manny. And Manny is the SWISS ARMY MAN.


Written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, the story unfolds to reveal a beautiful friendship. Hank knows Manny can help him survive and get back home, and so he begins the tender yet hilarious process of trying to trigger his dead friend's memories, which seem to enliven him enough to be more helpful. And so ensues a bizarre and wonderful relationship between two men, one struggling to live, and one struggling to... well... live.

The beauty of this movie is that it is inherently silly, and yet also full of vibrancy and meaning. Never again will a movie that is so actively about farts move you in such a heartfelt way. There are several details about the plot that don't quite add up, but at some point, it doesn't really matter. Its magic realism sweeps you into that safe place of suspended disbelief where it becomes more about the dynamic between the two characters and the lessons that they learn than it is about the logistics of where they are or what is actually taking place.

Dano and Radcliffe are like long lost brothers in this film, lighting up the screen with their characters; and the soundtrack is enthralling. Composed by Manchester Orchestra, the music consists of interactive a Capella -- the characters actually contribute to it -- with an incredible energy to it. Hank likes to sing to himself; his songs are like Manny's flatulence, in that they just come out, and that they are intrinsic to his survival and emotional wellbeing. If that sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. And that's what makes it so enjoyable.

You don't want to think too much before watching this movie. To overthink it would be to belittle the comic value and the sincerity of the characters. Just sit down and enjoy it. SWISS ARMY MAN is playing at Midtown Cinema starting 7/8!

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