Patron Request: ‘Swiss Army Man’

I love my patrons, each and every one. I can’t thank you all enough for choosing to support me and the work that I do. I wish I could show you how much I appreciate what you do for me. I especially wish I could show it by loving every single film you request that I write about. But sadly, that isn’t always going to be the case. I really did not like Swiss Army Man. I didn’t despise it, and I have no desire to tear it down. But it really, really did not work for me.

A big part of it is that it reminds me of a time in my life when it would have played like gangbusters for me. I think about myself in high school and college, depressed and lonely and positive no one could ever love me. I was exactly the sort of person this movie would have spoken to, with its attempts at profundity and calculatedly heart-lifting score. Paul Dano’s cross-dressing in particular would have spoken to me, for obvious reasons. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think I’m mature enough now to look at a film like this and not hate it for being insufferably twee and insipid. I’m happy that other people get something out of Swiss Army Man. It’s just not for me anymore.

The other part of it, the part I find less easy to shrug off and more subtly insidious, is the Weepy Horny Bearded Guy of it all. Though it purports to be a film about the oddities and complexities of life, really it’s a film about being a man. An isolated, depressed, self-loathing man, but ultimately a straight guy. I love plenty of movies about straight guys, so I don’t just object on principle. What bothers me is the way Swiss Army Man confuses a creepy one-sided attachment on a woman for some sort of profound expression of love. Dano’s character, Hank, uses a creepshot of a woman he sees on the bus as his phone background, and much of the film concerns him explaining to his corpse friend Manny the proper way to woo her. His admittance that he’s actually unskilled in talking to women is meant to make him seem more innocent, more endearing. But I’ve known too many guys like this for it to play as anything more than unsettling.

I wish there had been a moment where Hank realized that his attachment to this woman (played in a truly pathetic bit of misuse by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was false and inappropriate, but that his bond with Manny meant that finding love was not an impossibility for him. That should be the lesson for a character like this. Instead, the film is about Hank learning that being weird is actually cool, a great lesson that’s been covered by every children’s TV show for the past half-century. It’s wild to think that the praise for this film was all about how original and unique it was. The elevator pitch is unusual, sure, but it’s not saying anything new.

I’ll say again that I don’t find Swiss Army Man so detestable that it’s worth really ripping into. It’s not completely harmless, but it’s more or less inert. It’s just not a film that was ever going to work for me at this point in my life. It doesn’t have the things that excite and inspire me about cinema, and it misfires in some unavoidable ways. Also, when I get right down to it, I just have never found fart jokes funny. Maybe that’s the most important thing.

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