Let’s get this out of the way first: the film industry overall is better when films like this are made, when distributors like A24 take a chance on something as original as this and do their best to bring it to the general public. It’s such a strangely brilliant concept for a story, and the fact that we all have a chance to go support this in a theater right now is refreshing. Sure, this and The Neon Demon probably have a combined theater life of approximately 3 weeks, but it’s nice knowing that options are at least out there. I will gladly support these smaller films as everyone else is trudging into Independence Day: Resurgence or whatnot, even if what I’m supporting is as mediocre as some of the other summer fare.
That mediocrity, unfortunately, is what ends up befalling Swiss Army Man. It’s not a bad movie by any means–the wonderful score and performances make sure of that, along with a Shane Carruth cameo–but it has trouble navigating the balance between poignant emotional journey and wacky farting boner corpse antics. All of it is tied together with a clumsily written storyline about Hank’s past, a storyline that requires more time and fleshing out in order to seem necessary. The same is true for the other side: if you’re going to really commit to the weird, to the dreamy mysticism that permeates the film, then don’t take every moment as an opportunity to ground everything in some half-baked “real world” connection. I get that the Daniels guys want to show contrasts. I get that questions about Hank’s mental health are key aspects of his character. I get that there’s a desire to subvert expectations about the typical indie coming of age story. However, I come away from this film not knowing what it really wants to be, and its last act is an amalgamation of interesting ideas that mostly fall flat. It’s rushed, messy, and nowhere near as cathartic as it wants to be, and it’s a perfect example of tonal inconsistencies leading to a less than satisfying conclusion. It comes as no surprise, then, that the film is at its best when the Daniels are doing what they do best: making a music video. I applaud the effort for the film overall, but all I really need out of this is a three minute montage of weird shit happening with a multi-purpose corpse.
Photo credit: Swiss Army Man, A24