Daniel Radcliffe's Fart-Filled Survival Movie Has Divided Sundance
The room was giddy. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, was in attendance for the premiere of his Sundance entry, Swiss Army Man, and I was sitting right behind him as teenagers fluttered by for a glance and fearless mothers nabbed Instagrams with an object of affection half their age. A 20-minute delay turned the anticipation up to a rolling boil: this crowd wanted its Radcliffe and it wanted it now.
Then the lights went down. The music kicked in. The picture flickered on. And the flatulence, mighty and blaring, began to blow.
In the grand tradition of survival stories like Flight of the Phoenix and Man in the Wilderness, Swiss Army Man stars Radcliffe and Golden Globe-nominee Paul Dano as two men fighting their way back to civilization after getting lost in the woods. In the grand tradition of Weekend at Bernie's, Radcliffe's character Manny is a dead body that Dano's Hank hauls out of respect and for practical application.
Manny, you see, is a literal "Swiss Army Man." Tilt his head forward and he barfs drinkable water. Yank his arm back and he karate-chops wood. Plug his mouth with a giant stone and he'll fire it off like a gun. And his post-mortem farts provide quite the thrust. In the very first scene, Hank escapes a desert island by riding Manny like a jet ski. A well-dressed, ghost-white, gas-spewing jet ski.
Swiss Army Man plays like The Revenant reenacted by the Lost Boys. Between its absurdist sight gags, the movie asks life's big questions: the meaning of life, the futility of death, the responsibility of the modern man, and the truth about sex. This is a movie where the heroes build a compass out of a magical, raging boner.
The directors, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, whose previous work includes everything from Chromeo music videos to Childrens Hospital, revel in their mix of high- and lower-than-lowbrow. "Originally it was a fart joke," admitted Scheinert during a post-screening Q&A. Then the duo wondered how a dead body would wind up farting its way across the Pacific. The rest is history.
Based on numerous walk-outs and gagging reactions echoing through the Eccles, the festival’s largest theater, Swiss Army Man was not the movie Radcliffe's selfie-snapping fans expected from a Sundance premiere. Critics in the room were equally split, reactions ranging from "bonkers" to "puerile" to those wondering if Kwan and Scheinert were out to troll the crowd.
That's a little harsh; the directing duo knew Swiss Army Man would be divisive. They didn't pair spiritual revelations with posterior close-ups, bodily vapors rippling pants in slow motion, and expect everyone to see lyrical beauty. They did expect someone to see it. Mission accomplished; for every person that bailed, there were two troopers who submitted with glee to the vulgar comedy. I proudly include myself in that faction.
Radcliffe's floppy, infantile work is up there with Jim Carrey's contortions. Dano's counter, flailing and flying as he unlocks his human baggage's powers, evolves into something profound as his failures from a pre-stranded life begin to fester. Kwan and Scheinert commit to the mania with a style that can only be described as possessed. Swiss Army Man stands alone among Sundance past and present. There's never been a movie this brainless with so much on its mind.
When Swiss Army Man crescendoed to a close and the lights went back up, the room was still giddy, now for entirely different reasons. Farts: they’re cool again.
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He'd be OK living in the woods. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.