I saw the trailer for Swiss Army Man a while back and I was immediately intrigued. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a movie about a castaway who finds a farting/talking/freshwater barfing corpse that he can use in all sorts of practical ways. But I was also a little reticent. How could this obviously extremely novel concept sustain itself through a feature-length runtime? Maybe it would be in danger of running into Fart Joke: The Movie territory. (that’s made up, but you get the point) It’s clearly weird, but is it weird for weird’s sake or is it weird in a high-concept/boundary-pushing way? There was only one way to find out – go see it! Well, I saw it… with the reticence still in place. But by the time I saw it, I was armed with assurances of quality from some trustworthy folks. Were they right? Did the premise stretch thin? Well, let’s get into it, shall we?
Hank is alone on a remote island, blown there during a storm if his message-in-a-bottle-type graffitied garbage boats are to be believed. He’s been there long enough to succumb to hunger/thirst/depression/boredom and decides to take his own life. Just as he is about to hang himself, he notices a corpse washed up on the beach. The corpse, named Manny, turns out to be some sort of multi-purpose tool guy. Hank finds this out after riding the farting body across the waves like a jet ski to another remote and lonely place. This time, instead of sandy beach, he must contend with forested wilderness. Manny is good for chopping wood, starting fires, shooting projectiles from his mouth, and a whole host of other things that are useful for surviving in the wild. As Hank fights his way back to civilization with Manny in tow, he teaches the amnesiac Manny about the ways of the world and the two form a bond.
Swiss Army Man does not stretch its assumed premise thin. I say “assumed” (or ASSumed) because of my own assumptions from seeing the trailer. I assumed that it was simply a comedic survival story with a very unique corpse/zombie being used as a number of tools. That’s certainly the vehicle for the story, but it’s a buddy movie at its core. And it’s a pretty sweet one at that. (both sweet in the colloquial “cool” sense and in the colloquial “endearing” sense) Directors, Daniels, have certainly pushed the limits of (conventional) good taste. The movie is full of boners (well, one boner) bucking like a rodeo bull. Of farts. Of butts. Of barfing. And so on. But, somehow, they have done so tenderly and with great empathy for their protagonists. Viewers will easily sympathize with the innocently candid Manny and the socially awkward Hank. Without that sympathy, the film could easily have been Fart Joke 2: Toot Sweet. (2t Sweet?) Through all of their trials and tribulations (does that mean hardships? i’ll have to look that up sometime) the guys stick together. Hank’s loyalty to and compassion for a living corpse is commendable. And Manny’s wide-eyed awe of the man he believes his new friend to be is heartwarming. It may sound strange to use such cloying terms for a buddy comedy full of farts and boner slaps, but it really is a sweet movie that will (at times) tug on the ol’ heartstrings. That’s not so say it isn’t raucously jubilant in it’s sophomoric potty humor. It certainly is that. But the movie demonstrates unequivocally that Daniels can handle both approaches with aplomb.
The Final Cut: Swiss Army Man is a joyous celebration of life, love, and self-discovery. There’s something for everyone: laughter, heartache, a zombie (kind of), danger, farts, and boners!