When a movie’s main title is preceded by a lonely man riding a farting corpse off a desert island and across the ocean, you either leave the theater immediately, or settle in for a cinematic experience like no other. Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) plays the lonely one, and Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) plays the flatulent one. Dano’s about to hang himself out of loneliness before Radcliffe washes ashore and inspires him to stick it out. With the help of Radcliffe’s self-propelling gas, boner compass and other special powers, Dano reaches a wilderness coast and embarks on a quest to find the girl of his dreams. All the while, Radcliffe’s character becomes increasingly more aware and alive, and a seemingly goofy comedy morphs into a shockingly effective love story.
Trying to pin down Swiss Army Man by the laws of physics and good taste is an act of futility. Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert imbue the film with its own, poetic verisimilitude. Tonally, the movie is a blend of heart and humor, goofiness and utter sincerity. It’s held together by the very real relationship between its two main characters. It begins as a father-child relationship, with Dano explaining to Radcliffe all the basics of love, life, and the world around them. It becomes a buddy movie… then something more romantic… and then something beyond even that. Something magical and sub-textual that you can only reach by breaking the rules of conventional storytelling.
Dano and Radcliffe are terrific in daring roles, grounding the film in their shared faith of the reality they’re inhabiting. The cinematography, music, and editing are also inspired, balancing the movie’s alternating kinetic and tender energies. Movies this fanciful tend to turn vapid and outstay their welcome, but Swiss Army Man is absolutely about something. Something important even. It’s the most life-affirming farting corpse buddy movie you will ever see.