REVIEW: Swiss Army Man

29 06 2016

Swiss Army Man PosterFor what was likely the better part of a decade, I spouted off the line “Better out than in, eh?” from the movie “Shrek” without really knowing what it meant. The maxim refers to passing gas, of course, but the true and deeper meaning eluded me for quite some time. What the crude ogre really says relates to being yourself and embracing the stench rather than letting something you need to expel bottle up inside.

15 years later, “Better Out Than In” could be an alternate title – or at the very least a slogan – for the Daniels’ “Swiss Army Man.” (The directing duo Daniel Schienert and Daniel Kwan make it easy on everyone and go by just “Daniels,” like Madonna or something.) The movie has farts and flatulence to spare, but they are not some kind of sophomoric gag for easy laughs. Farts serve as a hilarious, self-effacing encapsulation of the film’s thematic heft. We have to embrace that which other people – and society as a whole – want us to keep inside. Sometimes, we even have to let it out, no matter how sloppy, stinky and unpleasant it might turn out.

Farts save the life of Paul Dano’s Hank, a depressed drifter about to hang himself in his beachfront isolationism. He hears them coming from Daniel Radcliffe’s Manny, a corpse (yes, you read that correctly) that washes ashore just moments before he tightens the noose. In many ways, the two men are ironic contrasts at first meeting. Hank may be the living, breathing and functioning human, but the involuntary toots make Manny’s lifeless body more animated than him.

From there, the film enters into a truly Gonzo realm – especially once Manny becomes more than a human-sized sack of potatoes for Hank to lug around on his back. The Daniels take daring absurdist leaps where the boundary between miracle and hallucination is never quite delineated. In a rustic playhouse of imagination that recall the most vividly realized creations of Michel Gondry, Hank begins instructing Manny on how to function in the world.

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