Saturday, December 10, 2016

Swiss Army Man Review

"Maybe everyone's a little bit ugly. Yeah, maybe we're all just ugly, dying sacks of shit and maybe all it'll take is one person to just be okay with that."

I have never been the most agreeable person when confronted with a social situation. I'm not, can't get the words to come out and start sweating before running away bad, but I just never feel like I am in my element when surrounded by new people in a new environment. Every minute feels like a tiny struggle rather than the warm breeze I welcome when I am soaking in my comfort zone, with friends or family or when I am alone. Gosh I love being alone, the couple of hours late at night when the lights are low, the world is still and I am completely free to not say a single word but rather digest those written by screenwriters and spoken by the actors on screen. This isn't a slight to those friends or family, and those closest to me understand that by now. I simply need that time each night to let my banal daily concerns melt away, focusing instead on stories told by and about others.

It wasn't always this easy though. It was never can't get the words to come out and start sweating before running away bad, but that doesn't mean the words ever came out naturally, I'm certain there was some sweating and I constantly had to fight the temptation to run away. Growing up is never easy for anyone, except for maybe one of those teenage Kardashian's and the Trump son who looks like he would have tried to date Rory Gilmore at Yale, and as a teenager I felt like I was putting on a costume every single day. I'm sure this is quite common, I know that now, but at the time all I could be certain of was what I saw in the mirror looking back at me. The expensive clothes I bought and the obsessive and unhealthy weight loss, all so I could play a character that would get the girl, and the thing is I did. I got a girl. I felt like Gene Kelly swinging on a lamppost in the rain. I got a girl.

It was never going to amount to anything, and looking back on it, all of the joy of that first relationship has been rendered meaningless. I wore the expensive clothes, I stayed in perfect shape, and I ended up resenting the girl because I was never allowed to be me.

Swiss Army Man opens up with Hank (Paul Dano) on the beach of a deserted island preparing to hang himself. He has been stranded for some time and has lost any hope of being found, but then suddenly a dead body washes ashore. He tries to resuscitate the man but is greeted by little success and a steady wave of flatulence, which quickly becomes an unlikely source of hope when the body begins to propel itself through the water thanks to its farts. Hank quite literally rides the corpse across the ocean much like a jet ski, reaching the land he thought he would never see again thanks to the help of his new deceased friend.

Yes, this is the real premise to a real film, and a great one at that. I remember the first time I saw the trailer for Swiss Army Man in the theater, and the murmurs that filled the room after it ended were likely not positive nor truly negative but more in the realm of astonishment that such a story would be told in the first place. It's exactly these reactions that truly shine a light at how wonderful the screenplay for this film is, written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (whom go by "Daniels"), because it completely subverts expectations by taking such crude, juvenile humor and elevating it into something thoughtful, meaningful and at times even profound. Early on in the film after he first discovers the body and rides around on it, I didn't think there was a chance in hell I would be able to take the picture seriously and yet there I was later on as Hank is having conversations with a dead man named Manny, teaching him about how joyful the minutiae of life can be, and I was moved.

Notice I said Hank had conversations with a dead man. That's because the corpse in the film talks, and the man doing the talking is Daniel Radcliffe, and what a terrific performance it is. Once you peel back the curtain that initially blocks your view, one made of farts and erections, you see the beauty in this whole thing so creatively put together by the Daniels. You see the passion and love they have for a film that is built on a foundation of low brow material and yet they are able to make an audience feel high with exuberance when they see the touching moments between Hank and Manny, and it helps a lot that Dano and Radcliffe have such excellent chemistry.

Swiss Army Man is so imaginative and fascinating, and discovering the deeper meaning to everything you might initially deem shallow is a real treat. Sure, a dead guy farts a lot, but for Hank it is symbolic for feeling free, for being comfortable enough around another person to not hold back who you are. Accompanied by a musical score by Manchester Orchestra that is flat out perfect for this strange, wonderful journey, this film certainly isn't for everyone but those that find its heart will fall in love with the bond between a man and a corpse. It's unbelievable that this whole things works, a reminder that originality is alive and well as long as such interesting projects continue to get funded and supported by studios that believe in innovative storytellers.

The driving force behind Hank's desire to get back home is a girl named Sarah, played by the beautiful and supremely talented Mary Elizabeth Winstead whom still has delivered one of the better performances of the year in 10 Cloverfield Lane. For much of the film her character is relegated to being simply a photo on the lock screen of Hank's phone, but she delivers the final three words of the movie that perfectly encapsulate exactly how everyone watching this movie feels at some point. I know I said them once or twice, but I had a smile on my face when I did.


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