IFFBoston hosted the preview screening of Swiss Army Man at the Somerville Theatre, and I've heard people involved with the fest joke about the effect elevation has on movies like Swiss Army Man: It's apparently really easy to get lightheaded at Park City, so something that hits one right really works, distributors pay big money, and then, when you get back to sea level, hmm, well, okay, that was interesting, but maybe not quite great...
Thankfully, Swiss Army Man is better than that, but I do kind of wonder if all the high-altitude elation it received at Sundance (with fans knowing they had to explain why it's not just the "farting corpse movie") made people give the kind-of-messy last act a little more of a pass than they might otherwise have done. It's no disaster, but it does very much seem like the Daniels were stretched between needing it to give the other stuff weight but not fleshing it out quite so much.
... is there some sort of "Ebert's Little Movie Glossary" for scenes like the one Swiss Army Man finishes with? It's kind of of a piece with Safety Not Guaranteed, where a big part of the film's power relies on recognizing reality, but because the filmmakers and audiences fall so in love with the delusion, the fantastic elements need to be brought into the film's real world? I liked it in Safety, but not so much here, and I wonder if I'd turn on the working time machine in that if I watched it now.
Swiss Army Man
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 June 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston Preview Series, DCP)
There is no denying that Swiss Army Man is a memorable movie: It's creative, energetic, and full of cleverness and whimsy. It's got the best work some members of the cast have ever done. The question, then, is whether there's a great movie in total when the clock starts winding down and it's time to decide what all that unquestionably appealing material is leading to. That's perhaps a little less brilliant, but it doesn't squander the goodwill that the unique bulk of the film has earned.
It opens with Hank (Paul Dano), alone on a Pacific island after some unspecified disaster, just about to end it all as much out of boredom as despair. Seeing that a person has washed up on shore, he changes his mind, only to find that the man is dead. That doesn't stop him, though, and he starts treating the corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) as a companion, even if the bacteria in its gut are making it unusually flatulent. On the other hand, that seems to be the source of some incredible abilities that might help Hank get off his island, even before "Manny" starts talking.
We know how movies like this work; the peculiar companion that appears when Hank is at the literal end of his rope is probably not entirely real, but a way for Hank to stay sane and focused until rescue/escape. For a while, viewers are probably filing every weird thing that Manny's multifunctional body does, from spewing water out of his mouth to using the gassy buildup for propulsion, either trying to figure out what's really going on or expecting a flashback montage that shows how Hank was managing it himself. That filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert ultimately get the audience to treat this as unimportant is a testament to their skills; the imagery is delightful and fantastical on its own, and what Hank and Manny are doing is interesting and fast-moving enough that the reasons behind it aren't so important.
Full review on EFC.