Hank Thomson (Paul Dano) is at the end of his tether. He has been washed up on a desert island shortly after trying to sail across the ocean to get away from it all, but he couldn't get away from himself and that feeling has only been amplified as he awaits rescue that will never arrive. Finally, he has to admit defeat, and secures a rope around his neck, stands on a cooler, and prepares to end it all - but then he catches sight of a body lying on the beach! Could this be a companion at last? The rope breaks and he stumbles over to see what is up with his potential new friend, only to discover the man (Daniel Radcliffe) is well and truly dead. And farting. So with heavy heart, not wishing to starve to death, Hank takes the corpse's belt and prepares to die by his own hand...
But the body keeps farting, and if you have a juvenile sense of humour, you will find that peculiarly amusing. Peculiar being the operative word, as Swiss Army Man was anything but ordinary, even with the sense that everything on film, every possible permutation of story and genre, had been done, here was something genuinely odd. At heart it was an indie relationships dramedy, considering the differences between male friends and female friends and how sad it was that for many men, they could not get on with their female partners as well as, or at least in the same way as, their male pals. Hank, as we find out over the course of the film, just doesn't know how to talk to girls.
Not as much as he knows how to talk to dead bodies, anyway, and that was how this played out, with the deepening relationship between one awkward chap and his new mate, a complete innocent who is almost childlike in his appreciation for and lack of understanding of the world he really should have left behind by this point. The corpse's name, it turns out, is Manny, and Radcliffe essayed the role with the kind of conviction that was as impressive as it was improbable that he would garner awards recognition for his dedication. There was a mannequin of him made, but he insisted on doing as much of the physical work himself, and his floppy, fixed expression performing was not quite like anything you would ever have seen from a major star.
Albeit a major star who had found massive success early, was presumably financially independent because of it, and therefore had embarked on a series of out of the ordinary, even eccentric projects that the fans of his blockbusters would never think to have watched if he had not appeared in them: there was a near-perversity about these choices, and had Radcliffe not been so affable you would be tempted to believe he was purposefully messing with his public's minds. He was assuredly proving himself a more accomplished actor than he ever hinted at in his formative years, as if all these off the wall efforts were stretching his abilities to ever more impressive lengths.
It wasn't every actor who could make you care about a character who was inert save for a very obvious erection in his trousers that provided a compass for Hank, but here we were. The lack of female company was something both Hank and Manny are painfully aware of, as Hank has a phone that features an attractive woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on its screen. However, he cannot get a decent signal on it and the battery is almost used up. When Manny sees this photo, he is smitten, but is unaware that his companion may well know who she is - up to a point, as we also realise that Hank has very little experience with the opposite sex and prefers to pine over loves that have never happened, either because he never had the courage to do anything about them or because he comes across as a complete weirdo.
We can tell by his interactions that really are weird - Manny is a Swiss Army Man because of his various life-saving functions, including super-farting, spewing fresh water and firing objects out of his mouth like a gun - Hank is actually a sweet guy for whom the expectations of the modern world have utterly thwarted him, existence has simply got too complicated for him to do anything but live it at a standstill, too scared to move forward or back. He becomes so close to Manny that their interactions grow curiously homoerotic, in lieu of any women present, and the corpse's frank but naïve talk has him discussing and explaining functions he would never dream of doing normally. Therefore this remained comedic, at times laugh out loud funny, yet the frustrations with the modern male gave it depth, though offered no concrete solutions as Hank is as desperate at the end as he was at the beginning. Music by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, with special interest in the properties of the theme from Jurassic Park as pop culture proves a bonding agent (doesn't it always?).