By the time directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (a.k.a. the Daniels) departed from this year’s Sundance with the Best Directing jury prize for their work on “Swiss Army Man,” they had left everyone who had seen their film strongly split on what exactly they had just witnessed. Some people walked out of the premiere screening, while others praised it as the most original film in years.
Now, as “Swiss Army Man” gets its nationwide release this weekend, it seems that critics are just as divided over this strange film as the Sundance crowd. “Swiss Army Man” currently has a 64 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the reviews that have come in following its limited release range from effusive praise for its bold premise and themes, to disgust at its juvenile, gross-out humor.
The film follows Hank (Paul Dano), a man stuck on a deserted island who discovers a talking corpse called Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). It turns out that Manny can be used as a fart-powered jet ski, a tree-chopping ax, a fire-starter and a grappling hook. As the two make their way to civilization, they begin meditating on a variety of topics as Hank helps Manny relearn how to be human.
For TheWrap critic Dave White, the deeper themes felt like a mess: “… it’s unclear what Daniels want to say about Hank’s plight, so they fumble his sadness with overly familiar indie-film oddballery,” he wrote. “A too-precious folk soundtrack by Manchester Orchestra; a script that stuffs its last half with post-adolescent insights about people needing to keep it real and be honest with their feelings; made-up songs that describe the action taking place on screen: it’s magical flatulence cuteness overdrive.”
But for other critics, Daniels’ eccentric approach to filmmaking is pure genius. Here’s some more of the varied reactions “Swiss Army Man” is getting.
Devin Faraci, Birth.Movies.Death.
“This is, without a doubt, the best film of the year so far. It’s a movie that is a miracle, a movie that’s weird and unique and stupid and smart and somehow never becomes annoying or trite. It’s a movie with real vision behind it, a movie starring two great actors truly allowing themselves to be raw and strange, a movie that is willing to alienate as it seeks understanding a
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“The film … has a rare degree of go-for-broke weirdness, and not in a good way. Dano and Radcliffe deserve admiration for tackling their bizarre characters, and [Mary Elizabeth] Winstead introduces a touching level of pathos. But they’re ill served by co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who make ironic air-quotes frame every quirky line reading, story beat and performing gesture.”
Joshua Rothkopf, TimeOut
“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 and 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.”
Jeffrey Bloomer, Slate
“From the moment ‘Swiss Army Man’ premiered at Sundance … its fate was to become known as ‘the farting corpse movie,”‘an adolescent novelty for the snickering class. And it is that. The corpse never stops farting, and the film is proudly scatological. Yet if any movie can transcend such an ignoble introduction, it’s this one. The tale of a marooned castaway and the friendly cadaver who nurses him back to health, ‘Swiss Army Man’ opens as a desert-island fantasy and morphs into a disturbingly intimate buddy movie–hilarious, deranged, and always alive with possibility. There are real rewards for the viewer who, as our stranded hero mounts the flatulent body and uses it as a makeshift jet ski, just holds on tight and goes with it.”
Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times
“It’s safe to say the Daniels have hit upon a decidedly unconventional metaphor for the cloudy, socially stunted turbulence of lonely nerds trying to figure out a way to engage with the world. But even with all the design-rich invention and admirably committed weirdness on display in ‘Swiss Army Man,’ we’re still in the land of immature males, poor-me feelings and superpowers. While the movie focuses on one end of the body, you might be left sighing from the other.”
Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com
“The Daniels have made a film that’s at once a labor of love and a work of sheer arrogant nerve, one that is as likely to be described as a classic, an ambitious misfire, and one of the worst films ever made by any three people who see it together. How many movies can you say that about?”