56. Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man was the fourth release from last weekend that I previously alluded to as being highly anticipated by yours truly.  It initially showed up on my radar due to the presence of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, of whom I’m a pretty big fan.  I’ve known it was coming since March and I’ve been looking forward to it ever since.  When I first saw a trailer, four or five weeks ago, my anticipation increased because it just looked so frickin’ weird!  And fresh!  And weird!  I couldn’t make it to a theater that was showing it, last weekend, but I had to check it out before next week, when I’ll be away from movie theaters, altogether (this will be the last entry in the March for at least a week-and-a-half.  Maybe even two weeks.  Don’t worry; I’ll catch up.).

I’m honestly still not entirely sure what I just saw but I know that I loved it.  I know that I was entertained.  I know that I laughed.  I know that I felt things.  I know that I reflected upon my own life.  I know that I reflected upon the film in an attempt to fully decipher the narrative and its meaning.  What I came away with is that, at its heart, Swiss Army Man is a love letter to anyone who feels unlovable.  Also, to Jurassic Park (the film features my favorite line of the year relating directly to this).

I mentioned in my Now You See Me 2 post that Daniel Radcliffe is working hard to escape the Harry Potter stigma and that, while he was doing a good job, he wasn’t quite there, yet.  Well, he’s there, now.  For anyone who sees Swiss Army Man, Daniel Radcliffe is unquestionably there.  He takes a role unlike any other role ever written and brings it to life.  Literally.  (No, really.  I don’t misuse the word “literally”.  See the movie.  You’ll get it.)  His character of Manny represents the naïve innocence that the world has lost and so desperately longs to regain.  He’s more like a loyal pet than a man, constantly seeing the world through the eyes of someone who only wants to understand it and to understand why it’s all so complicated.  He just wants everyone to love everyone else for who they are and simply can’t comprehend how that can be so difficult.  And he’s genuinely funny.  He has a deadpan humor that had the entire audience laughing out loud, including me.  But the humor comes more from the intent and the delivery of his words, rather than the words, themselves.  It’s subtle and thoughtful and perfect.

Paul Dano plays Hank, Manny’s companion.  (“Companion” is an incredibly reductive word for their relationship but I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen a trailer.  I suggest you just watch it, knowing as little as possible.)  Hank has lived a life that has told him that he is unlovable.  He knows what he wants, but he can’t bring himself to go for it because rejection has been the only truth he has ever known.  Eventually, Pavlov’s mice stopped attempting to eat the electrified cheese and that’s the lesson that Hank has learned from life.  Whereas Radcliffe’s Manny has a very straightforward view of life, Dano’s Hank complicates everything and Dano succeeds in delivering a nuanced performance that is somehow simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting.

Hank and Manny are perfect compliments of each other, each one helping the other fill out their understanding of the world around them.  The film is a buddy picture and their adventure is as unforgettable as any I’ve seen.  I constantly harp on the absurdity of people who go on about how there are no original ideas in movies, anymore, and Swiss Army Man is exactly the sort of project that makes that sort of statement laughable.  This is simply the most original film I can ever remember seeing.  Dano and Radcliffe have an incredible challenge in front of them and they step up to the plate in every way.

Some viewers may be turned off by the sophomoric humor that is largely contained to the beginning of the film.  That’s not typically my sort of thing, either, but stick with it; it’s going somewhere.  It makes me think of a person who is uncomfortable in large groups, so he/she makes easy toilet humor jokes because they know they’ll land, whereas their more refined thoughts will often be misunderstood, if they’re understood, at all.  Then, as the person gets more comfortable, they let their true self shine through a little more, being willing to take the risk once there’s a bit of an established trust.  If Swiss Army Man was a person, that’s the person it would be.

Since I built up Mary Elizabeth Winstead, I should probably touch on her presence.  I won’t say anything other than that her role is the lynchpin of the entire film.  I wouldn’t have been upset if she had had more screen time (hey, every movie can use more Mary Elizabeth Winstead!), but she has the appropriate amount for the story that is being told.

Swiss Army Man is exactly the kind of indie film that I love.  I give all the credit in the world to co-writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.  The film is deep, thought-provoking, crisp, fast, and relentlessly entertaining.  Most importantly, it works on every level; it functions metaphorically and it functions on the surface.  I can’t stress the importance of that.  The production company, A24 Films, is really making a name for themselves and they’ve had many of the best indie films from the last couple of years.  Under the Skin, Ex Machina, Room, The Witch, Green Room, The Lobster, and now Swiss Army Man (and many more) have all come from A24 and I’m at the point where, when I see their logo at the beginning of a trailer, I pay attention and make a mental note regarding the advertised film.  Swiss Army Man represents everything that’s right about filmmaking.  Except for dinosaurs.  But that’s why we need Jurassic Park.

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