In a brilliant opening laden with dark comedy, a man looks out at the ocean as he struggles to kill himself with a necktie, haplessly unable to get the job done. Luckily, the corpse of a well-dressed man washes up onto the beach, releasing a series of nasty farts to prove he’s dead. It’s then that our protagonist robs the cadaver of its belt and moves to continue his suicide attempt – the scene is hilarious, sad, and intriguing. And it was the first and last moment of Swiss Army Man that I found the least bit interesting.
Seconds later, the corpse, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), is transformed into a human jet ski, propelled through the water by an endless series of dead-guy farts and piloted by the no-longer-suicidal Hank (Paul Dano). I was tempted to laugh, but the sheer chaos is hard to process and felt like an omen of things to come; immature bathroom gags punctuated by stoner-humor madness sets the tone for the entire film, but what follows is even more ridiculous than then opening five minutes.
As I sit back and try to absorb Swiss Army Man, all I can conclude is that it’s a prank. First-time film directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – jointly known as “The Daniels” – have made me dredge through 97 minutes of fart humor and erection-prodding moments of discomfort without any discernible point or memorable takeaway.
I’ll give them this, their elaborate $2 million scam has one hell of a sales pitch – never have I seen such a stupid film feature photography this gorgeous. Daniel Radcliff’s corpse ass, which gets about as much camera time as his face, is always captured with the utmost artistic grace, making for the most stunning moments of flatulence in all of cinema.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself that this sounds kind of hysterical. Admittedly, it’s almost as if Swiss Army Man is lampooning arthouse films by emulating their style, except with scenes that play out in a series of penis-centric philosophizing, as opposed to your usual artistic exploration. If Swiss Army Man is indeed satirizing arthouse cinema, that’s just about the only trick this pony has, and I lost interest well before the baffling first act came to a close.
Granted, there is some kind of established narrative about finding a girl named Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whom the duo practice impressing with your typical cross-dress roleplaying, culminating in awkward talks about the disingenuous nature of human relationships, the fallacy of secure masculinity, and coping with social anxiety.
I didn’t care. And frankly, I don’t know how anyone could. When previous scenes feature the duo – one of whom is supposed to be a paralyzed dead guy – analyzing cartoonish erectile-gyrations and discussing the social acceptance of farting, it’s hard to take any themes that may be below the surface seriously.
Is Swiss Army Man a commentary on being comfortable with our sexuality, exposing men for putting on a mask to conform to society? Nope. It’s just a series of asinine moments where a couple of jackasses eat discarded Cheetos in the woods and battle a bear using a corpse’s mouth as a cannon – all with poop-related sound effects interspersed whenever possible.
I’m inclined to believe the “beautiful” shots of ocean water dripping off buttcrack and subsequent farting is representational of nothing. But, if you’re the kind of person who thinks film craft means there must be something deeper than just a photogenic anus – please, spend all the brainpower you’d like trying to decipher this mess. But, dig too deep and it’s pretty easy to guess what you’ll find.
This may be the only time I’ve left a theatre feeling as if the directors deliberately wasted my time as part of a ruse, but that’s precisely my reaction to Swiss Army Man. I wish I could forget it ever happened, but the overdose of strange is as difficult for the mind to shake as childhood trauma. But at least I can stand proud knowing The Daniels’ elaborate prank didn’t work on me. This joke fails in both the delivery and the punchline – though the talent wasted on the presentation is, admittedly, worthy of a huge fart.