-Two of the most bizarre (and best) movies of the summer.
After getting mixed reaction in Sundance and a more positive response here with U.S. critics, the “Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse movie” has finally arrived in theaters, and after several weeks, I was finally able to see it.
While the first ten minutes we get our story, revolving around a stranded, suicidal Hank (Paul Dano) failing in his suicide attempt and becoming acquainted with the dead body of “Manny” (Daniel Radcliffe) which washed up on shore during his hanging. What happens next is Hank confronting his insecurities and fears while slowly becoming more transfixed with his new “swiss army man.” The corpse can do anything: fart so hard that his body becomes a jet-ski, spit clean water, karate chop through logs, snap his fingers for a spark, etc.
The film is a bit sad, relying mainly on the whimsy of the plot circumstances to make a more enjoyable experience out of things. As we realize how alone, damaged, and depressed Dano’s character is, we relish the time we get with Radcliffe’s Manny. He is able to serve as Dano’s renewed purpose in life. Through that, he gains courage and resourcefulness. Is it a buddy movie? Sure, but it’s certainly a unique one.
The constant flatulence grows very, very old in the opening act, so when the film finds a good way to mute it and continue on, the movie spends about 40 minutes being about as close to a 5 star film as we’ve seen this year. Prior to that, and after that, when the non-spoiled ending deflates the film, it seems childish and messy. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schienert have made a very special movie, but it’s concept isn’t enough. Occasionally, when the film tries to get too serious, or rely too much on its trippy elements, it just feels like a shallow shell of the whimsical adventure film that dominates the second act. Add in a wonderfully layered score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell that plays on essentially one theme throughout its run-time, and we have a fairly mixed bag.
This bag is full of laughs, emotionally heavy moments, and also immature lines like “no one should sit on the bus alone.” A few uncomfortable scenes of sexual tension between Dano and the dead Radcliffe later, and we’re left scratching our heads. When the “stranding” plot is taken care of and is resolved, the final shot takes back a lot of what made the movie emotionally sympathetic. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, after being hinted at for much of the film, is finally introduced to the audience at a spot where the film’s pace grinds to a halt. It’s like the audience was wearing a warm blanket that was just thrown off in the last twenty minutes, and we’re left in the cold. It doesn’t erase how good the film was before then, but this is definitely a messy experiment, albeit a unique and enjoyable one.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Director: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (X)
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Know what you’re getting into before you watch The Neon Demon. If the visual medium for film to tell the story is not your cup of tea, and as a viewer, you prefer dialogue, structured plot, and accessible story-telling, this new Nicolas Winding Refn film will not be a fan favorite, and hell, it hasn’t really been the critics’ either, sitting at a mediocre number on Rotten Tomatoes.
However, if this surreal, experimental style doesn’t alienate you, and there’s an appreciation for a film like this, then The Neon Demon may be one of the best films of the year so far. To me, it is, and Refn has again crafted a chilling, disturbing tale, filled with complexity and hidden motifs.
While the following plot summary is only a loose representation of what the film really does, it’s worth noting that our film centers on Jesse (Elle Fanning) a teenager who packed up and left for Los Angeles to get into the modeling industry. She admits that she doesn’t have a real talent, but is pretty enough to make it, and the executives seem to agree. As the film progresses, she takes more and more roles from the angry, violent, more experienced models (Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote), much to their ire. She also befriends her makeup artist (Jena Malone), and interacts with her skeevy hotel manager (Keanu Reeves).
The first shot of the film is Jesse sprawled out on a coach with fake blood coating her in a very strange photo shoot, backed by a very dark synthesized score from composer Cliff Martinez. The score plays a really important role in making the film constantly uneasy. The tension builds through the smallest sets of sequences, so when really crazy things begin happening, they’re somewhat expected, but deliver considering how uneasy the audience had been feeling over the last several scenes. Refn uses the cinematography, wonderful symmetrical shots, and small spots of plot advancement to further his story, all with this underlying tone of violence and dread.
Truthfully, I was absorbed in every second of this film, and I think it’s one of the best of the year so far.
The Neon Demon (2016)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives, ‘The Pusher’ Films, Bronson)
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote, and Keanu Reeves
RT Score: 49%