Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: So there’s this guy (Paul Dano) who is stranded on a deserted island and is about to kill himself, but when he discovers a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washed ashore that emits explosive farts, he decides to use the body as a jet ski to bring him back to the mainland. Oh, you haven’t heard that one before? Well, directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s new film “Swiss Army Man” tells this story with gusto and has divided critics when it premiered on Friday. Some critics argue that the duo has fashioned something poignant and profound out of what’s effectively a fart joke, while others have scoffed at its absurdism and juvenilia. Is “Swiss Army Man” just a crude provocation from the viral video era (this movie will inevitably be sold to audiences with some variation on “Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse”), or a line-in-the-sand challenge to audiences not to assume silly premises have nothing to say? Answers, as always, will vary.
First Reviews of “Swiss Army Man”
Matt Patches, Thrillist
Based on numerous walk-outs and gagging reactions echoing through the Eccles, the festival’s largest theater, “Swiss Army Man” was not the movie Radcliffe’s selfie-snapping fans expected from a Sundance premiere. Critics in the room were equally split, reactions ranging from “bonkers” to “puerile” to those wondering if Kwan and Scheinert were out to troll the crowd. That’s a little harsh; the directing duo knew “Swiss Army Man” would be divisive. They didn’t pair spiritual revelations with posterior close-ups, bodily vapors rippling pants in slow motion, and expect everyone to see lyrical beauty. They did expect someone to see it. Mission accomplished; for every person that bailed, there two troopers submitted with glee to the vulgar walkabout. I proudly include myself in that faction. Radcliffe’s floppy, infantile work is up there with Jim Carrey’s contortions. Dano’s counter, flailing and flying as he unlocks his human baggage’s powers, evolves into something profound as his failures from a pre-stranded life begin to fester. Kwan and Scheinert commit to the mania with a style that can only be described as possessed. “Swiss Army Man” stands alone among Sundance past and present. There’s never been a movie this brainless with so much on its mind.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
Beyond simply being a hilariously bizarre journey — as Hank discovers the various amazing abilities of his new companion — “Swiss Army Man” uses the conceit of Manny’s complete naivete about the human condition to dig into insecurities that keep relationships on a sadly superficial level. “The Daniels” aren’t uniformly successful at keeping their philosophical musings bumping up against all the weirdness, but there’s tremendous imagination in their visual style. And if you can manage to say something profound about the way we hide ourselves from others because of the things that make us uncomfortable, and do so while parading fart and boner jokes, you’ve got something special going on.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
I could never prep you enough for the degree to which farting plays a pivotal role in “Swiss Army Man.” In addition to its plot contrivance (it’s the gas that keeps these lost men on their voyage) the taboo of passing wind (as well as masturbation) becomes the central metaphor for the need to be true to oneself. It’s coarse and it’s stupid, but it is, thanks mostly the two good performances and some stylish use of music and editing, a little bit moving. Profound gas, indeed.
Jordan Raup, The Film Stage
While these creations, from a bus in the trees to an ornate cafe, never lose their luster, there’s a repetitive nature to the build-up of the montages, as if each sequence is its own small music video, not quite a surprise considering their background. In the last third, as fantastical elements start to fall to the wayside and certain revelations are uncovered, much of the momentum shifts to a standstill. The jokes that made up much of the first half are (perhaps intentionally) not funny any more, which would be all well and good if the finale landed with more impact. Shifting to more psychological territory, one wishes the flashbacks and repetition weren’t used as a crutch for delving deeper into what makes Hank tick. A “fart drama” — as coined by the directors themselves — to end all fart dramas, “Swiss Army Man” is an exceptionally unusual, one-of-a-kind achievement, worthy to seek out for that factor alone. However, if as much time was spent on the world-building as it was refining the script, this could have been a magical realism fever dream like few others.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
Back on planet Earth, we’re still talking about a ridiculously infantile film, one that flatters itself by intimating a deeper comment about suppressed masculinity or romantic passivity. Nope. And we do a disservice to compare “Swiss Army Man” to the work of, say, the Farrelly brothers, filmmakers who couple scatological humor with stealth sweetness. Only the film’s all-voice score, manically hummed by Manchester Orchestra members Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, captures the inner workings of a cracked mind. The rest of the movie is breaking wind.
I’ve seen thousands of movies and never seen anything like SWISS ARMY MAN. Insane. Crazy. Like entering a bonkers dream. Wow. #sundance
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) January 23, 2016
SWISS ARMY MAN is like THE LITTLE PRINCE but with a farting corpse instead of the Little Prince and it’s so stupid I loved it.
— Dan Schindel (@DanSchindel) January 23, 2016
SWISS ARMY MAN: Yeah, no idea what to make of this fable about depression, magical realist corpses, and flatulence. #Sundance
— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) January 23, 2016
If Gondry directed a castaway version of Weekend at Bernie’s it might come close to the strangely confounding SWISS ARMY MAN.
— chris nashawaty (@ChrisNashawaty) January 23, 2016
…and with ‘Swiss Army Man,’ hipster absurdism hits its critical mass point. #Sundance2016
— David Fear (@davidlfear) January 23, 2016
— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) January 23, 2016