Finally getting its UK release, Darren checks out indie comedy Swiss Army Man.
Comedy is, to me, one of the most interesting genres in film. While it might seem cheap sometimes, comedy films are always talking to you, always trying to send you a message, because that is what comedy is about; slipping ideas in there, sneaky and subtle in its obviousness.
Swiss Army Man is a ridiculous movie filled with fart jokes, lewd humour and more close-ups of Daniel Radcliffe’s arse than I ever thought I would see. It is thoroughly and whole-heartedly a silly and ridiculous movie.
But should a comedy movie be taken seriously?
Hank is a lonely desperate man, with a skill for crafting, who is washed up upon a desert island. After deciding to kill himself, he finds a corpse washed up on his tiny spit of land in the Pacific. With his new friend “Manny”, Hank is trying to escape the island and get back to civilization. What follows is a slow descent into madness with his trusty Swiss Army Man, to help him jet-ski, rappel and find his way home.
Paul Dano stars as Hank, and it is great to see him in a more starring role, his brand of eccentric acting is a treat to watch as any fan of Little Miss Sunshine will know. He manages to truly capture the descent here, with some fantastic character moments and a real commitment to his craft, Paul Dano shows you just how good an actor he really is.
Manny, is ably portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, and provides most of the humour for this one, his dry voice and constant questioning of social norms and pressures is surprisingly funny in their innocence and, at times, blunt cruelty of a child, that it’s hard not to both laugh and pause a little each time it happens.
Of course, Manny is more than his own separate character; through him, we are able to see more of Hank, as Manny is just a simulacrum for Hank to express his true feelings and thoughts. It’s an old trick but a good one, and works particularly well here as we learn more about what happened to Hank, how he came to be on the Island, and the crushing loneliness he feels now, even if it is relieved a little by Manny’s presence.
Madness is at the centre of this story and while it may seem that it’s about the slow dive into that madness, it is a lot more complicated than that. Madness is rife throughout the work, and permeates the entire film with its touch, making even the ridiculous plausible and making you question if anything or, indeed, if everything actually did happen. Without spoiling too much, one of the opening scenes, of Hank escaping the island, is so preposterous that we immediately call it into question but there is a real sincerity to it that later even that can be believed. A sense of unreality and its own internal logic makes everything both possible yet not.
Loneliness on the other hand is the subtext, it subverts everything that happens. Hank is a remarkably lonely man, and while I emphasised with his crushing despair, I was also wary. He longs for a life not lived and one that he is ill-suited for, in one scene, as he recounts a suicide attempt, he talks how he thought as he died he’d see a happy life flash before his eyes; such as parties and girlfriends, but we, the audience, see that he only saw a slow bus journey, with no one but himself and his music.
His music is a constant throughout, as he slowly sings about popcorn or Cotton -Eye Joe, giving this a surprisingly enjoyable soundtrack . It weaves its way naturally into the plot filling in gaps in our understanding about who Hank is and also what drives him, almost becoming at one point a musical with its style of exposition through song.
This is what I mean about taking things seriously. As a fairly pretentious person, I think that all art is trying to say something, that movies try to tell you something beyond what you pick up the first few times you watch it. Godfather is more than a mafia movie, Casablanca is more than a romance. Is Swiss Army Man more than a comedy?
The direction of the film seems to mess with this idea as well, having a few moments where it dares the audience to take it seriously and you can almost hear the derisive mocking laughter of the directors as you do so.
I took this movie very seriously, maybe more so than I should have and more than the directors would ever want a picture that has a reoccurring fart gag to every be taken. But I think that if anything has worth it must be so.
Maybe this is just a movie about a madman and his friend the corpse, maybe it is a critique on the general estrangement and tenuous grip on reality that those who are so thoroughly lonely and depressing feel. Maybe it’s neither.
But I do know that I enjoyed it.