Sundance Review: Swiss Army Man
Four days ago when I made my Sundance preview that had Swiss Army Man topping the list as my most anticipated movie of the festival, I must say I envisioned quite a different movie than the one I ended up seeing. The Swiss Army Man I pictured in my head was to be an interesting drama, in the vein of Cast Away, but perhaps a little bit quirkier. And then....the first reviews came from the Friday afternoon showing. Critics who no doubt had a similar vision as myself, were prepared for a serious Sundance drama and got a bizarre comedy with a lot of humor straight out of an Adam Sandler flick...and let's just say they were not happy about it. Having my expectations thrown out the window, and being replaced with the idea that the film centers around farting corpse jokes had to help me have a better experience right???
While having the critics' tempered expectations certainly did help my own, honestly and truly, nothing can really prepare you for the experience of Swiss Army Man. Let's immediately address the elephant in the room here and say that the humor in these proceedings is incredibly low-brow...there's just no denying that. But the fact that it's done so absurdly and creatively, is....dare I say impressive? Still, because of the nature of the humor, the majority of the laughs that came from me were usually guilty ones....and after SO many of them, there came a point where I just couldn't handle anymore. Most of my time in the theater I sat there watching this film feeling incredulous that it could possibly exist. On the one hand, I think it's amazing that someone could have such imagination and make it come alive....while on the other, it's just too bad that that imagination couldn't be a tad more refined.
Swiss Army Man actually has a lot going for it. It features two great performances from its leads Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, an interesting premise, and a pair of directors with an eye for the whimsical much like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze. You can see "the Daniels" music video influences often in the film, and the movie is definitely the better for it. There are moments that give you glimpses for what this film could have been if it wasn't so content to its potty humor, but unfortunately, every poignant moment usually ends with a fart. I tried to be okay with that and take the movie at its face value, but couldn't help but be frustrated when there were such glimmers of a greater talent beneath the surface. Instead, Swiss Army Man settles so often for stupidity, and you as a viewer have to decide whether to embrace it or be frustrated by it.
There are a lot of interesting, if not juvenile ideas to come out of Swiss Army Man, but towards the end of the movie (pardon the appropriate pun...) it all just runs out of gas. In the last fifteen minutes, you can tell this movie kind of had nowhere to go and you just want it to wrap up already. Swiss Army Man is one of the most truly bizarre movies I've ever seen in my life. A lot of its creativity and originality I really appreciated, while a good portion of it I found face palming and rolling my eyes constantly, and towards the end, I just needed it to conclude itself. Sometimes a person can only handle so much absurdity all at once. In the end, I can't help but feel like the movie is somewhat of a missed opportunity. The filmmakers were going for so much shock factor humor (that for some audiences open to it, it will totally work for,) that they didn't craft this movie as tightly or as intelligently as they could have. But then... maybe that wasn't really their goal. "The Daniels" wanted a movie to discuss the things we're "not supposed to talk about" and on that front, they definitely succeeded.