In a movie universe overpopulated with superhero origins stories and unnecessary sequels and reboots, we always welcome the arrival of something bold and original and flat-out weird.
I’d like to introduce you to “Swiss Army Man.” Of the roughly 5,000 movies I’ve seen in the last quarter-century, it’s easily one of the 100 weirdest and it’s a viable candidate to make the Top 10. (Note to self: Make a Top 10 list of Weirdest Movies of the Last 25 Years.)
Co-directors and writers Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan, known as the Daniels, have polarized film festival audiences with this bat-bleep crazy, occasionally irritating but mostly oddly beautiful and strangely charming buddy movie in which one of the buddies is a delusional cyber-stalker and the other is, well, a flatulent corpse.
I know. It’s not exactly another “Central Intelligence.”
Paul Dano, whose name must come up in nearly every casting discussion for eccentric misfit characters (“There Will Be Blood,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Love & Mercy”), is Hank, who is stranded on what appears to be a desert island and has lost all hope for survival.
Hank is about to end it all when a young man’s body washes up on the shore. It’s Daniel Radcliffe, and if your little ones are just getting into the Harry Potter movies, please don’t take them to see this film because they will be tormented in their nightmares by visions of a dead Harry who is unable to control his flatulence and his erections.
That’s the thing about Harry — or I mean Manny, as Hank dubs him. He seems quite dead, but he’s a serial farter, and the mere glimpse of an image of a pretty woman on a cell phone is enough to get him sexually excited.
Radcliffe does an amazing job of playing Manny as dead AND alive. Manny has the pale skin and the dead eyes of a corpse, but as Hank begins to care for him and lug him about the forest and treat him like a new friend, Manny comes to life of a sort. He’s almost like an alien who knows nothing about the human form he has inhabited and very little about the world he is visiting.
Hank is clearly delusional and perhaps utterly and completely mad. We’re pretty sure Manny isn’t really talking and crying and laughing and living it up with Hank — or is he? Until the very end, the Daniels keep us guessing as to whether we’re watching a stranded-survivor version of “Fight Club” or some kind of extra-twisted fractured fairy tale.
Manny truly is a Swiss Army Man, as Hank uses him as a multi-purpose tool to start fires, compass and source of fresh water. (Don’t ask.) Hank creates elaborate sets, using branches and twigs and all manner of discarded garbage to create facsimiles of a bus and a bar. (The garbage is literally a spoiler alert. If there’s so much garbage on this “island,” can people be all that far away?)
The score for “Swiss Army Man” is beautiful and lovely and funny and perfect for the story. Manchester Orchestra’s Robert McDowell and Andy Hull do a magnificent job of providing music that fits the shifting tones of the film, from absurdist comedy to dark adventure to something of a love story.
You might walk out of “Swiss Army Man.” You might tire of the flatulence and the erections and the self-conscious whimsy. But if you stick with it, there’s a chance it’ll grow on you as it grew on me — and you’ll be rewarded with maybe the best ending of any movie so far this year.
A24 presents a film written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Running time: 95 minutes. Rated R (for language and sexual material). Opens Friday at local theaters.