|'Swiss Army Man's veneer of originality begins to fall away, as Scheinert and Kwan rarely if ever manage to achieve the same aesthetic, thematic or narrative levels as the films and filmmakers they emulate'.|
A common factor amongst the positive reviews emerging for Swiss Army Man is praise for the apparent originality on show from co-writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (pompously joint-crediting themselves as "Daniels"). This may appear to be true on the surface - there certainly haven't been any other films featuring former boy wizards playing flatulent cadavers before this - but you don't have to dig too far below the surface to see that much of what Scheinert and Kwan have to offer is a mish-mash of ideas cherry-picked from past cinema.
Whilst some of these influences are explicitly referenced, such as the pleasantly unexpected reverence for Jurassic Park, others come through Scheinert and Kwan's ideas and execution. Cast Away and Fight Club come to mind as two of the most prominent within the subject matter, as does Marjane Satrapi's 2014 film The Voices; the direction and cinematography too are strongly reminiscent of both Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. It's when you start to consider just how keenly the influence of these sources can be felt that Swiss Army Man's veneer of originality begins to fall away, as Scheinert and Kwan rarely if ever manage to achieve the same aesthetic, thematic or narrative levels as the films and filmmakers they emulate.
What the pair do deserve some credit for is their conviction to make Swiss Army Man if not taboo-breaking then certainly taboo-broaching, even if it doesn't always work. Much has been made of the inclusion of farting throughout the film, a topic which is soon joined by masturbation and excrement, initially as sources of crude humour but more often as philosophical discussion points. The problem, however, is that the filmmakers should have stuck with the former comedic approach, as the latter too often comes across as hipsterish pseudointellectualism. The sporadic moments where Scheinert and Kwan allow their sense of fun and creativity to shine through are much better: the opening sequence involving Hank (Paul Dano) riding his dead buddy Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) across the waves like a human jet ski is uncannily joyous.
Despite its failings, Swiss Army Man is rescued not only by its more whimsical elements but also by the consistently excellent performances from its two leads. The chemistry between Dano as the dejected castaway and Radcliffe as his benevolent revenant is infectious and authentic throughout, both actors consistently managing to sustain the film in spite of its increasingly muddled narrative and malformed ideas. Radcliffe in particular deserves considerable praise both for delivering an engaging and warm performance despite having to look and act like a reanimated corpse, and for making yet another brave post-Potter career choice.