4th of July weekend evokes a number of iconic images in the minds of Americans: Fireworks, friends, BBQ, pool parties, and…movies. Many people still remember going to theaters on 4th of July weekend, getting some much needed air conditioning, and seeing some of the biggest blockbusters ever made (up to that point). Will Smith went from TV actor and rapper to Hollywood superstar after Men in Black, Independence Day, and Wild Wild West opened on 4th of July Weekends. Marty McFly first went Back to the Future in theaters on July 3rd of 1985. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Perfect Storm, Armageddon, A League of Their Own, Transformers, Apollo 13; all released on 4th of July weekend. Many of these films embody the sentiment of the holiday; with a strong and courageous hero taking on any number of forces that are trying to destroy their decidedly American way of life. This 4th of July weekend a new hero emerges who, in a roundabout way, encompasses all those ideals. He may not be a giant, nor does he swing through the jungle; but he is pretty gassy.
While it’s certainly not blockbuster material, Swiss Army Man is undoubtedly the most talked-about movie of the holiday weekend. After a head-scratching premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and a limited release last week, this bold comedy-drama gets a nationwide release. The film is the first feature-length project by Daniel Scheinert and Dan Kwan (aka Daniels), who have previously directed music videos for the likes of Foster the People and Lil Jon. However, it’s the Daniels’ short films – see “Interesting Ball” or “Dogboarding” – that feature the kitschy transformation and transfiguration that make Swiss Army Man such a uniquely bizarre film.
Swiss Army Man stars Paul Dano as Hank; a man stranded on a remote island for so long, he’s running out of hope. The only thoughts that keep Hank going are of returning to his beloved Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and never leaving her side again. Just as he’s about to call it a life, Hank spots his salvation washing ashore, wearing a very smart suit. It’s the corpse of a young man who, in his desperate loneliness, he names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). After taking Manny back to his makeshift cave home, Hank discovers that Manny isn’t quite as useful as he seems after Manny starts talking. Hank isn’t sure whether he’s hallucinating or witnessing a miracle, but the point is irrelevant; he’s found the hope he needs to get back to civilization.
He encounters many obstacles in the wilderness, but his trusted companion Manny seems up to any task. Whether the dead man is chopping a corpse, or being ridden as a flatulence-fueled jet ski, Manny is there to help like some sort of human multi-tool. As useful as Manny is at tackling the unforgiving wilderness, he’s even more useful in helping Hank work through some of the problems that landed him stranded in the first place.
While a lot of the events in both Swiss Army Man and the short films seem outrageous, it’s the Daniels’ subtle and realistic style of special effects that blurs the line between reality and fantasy, immersing the viewer in a sort of brilliant daydream. Struggling to understand whether Hank is having a therapy session with a supernatural being, or just working stuff out in his own head ceases to become important. Whatever is happening to Hank becomes much less important than the fact that it is happening to Hank, and the hilarious way in which it’s happening to him. An upbeat and offbeat original soundtrack by Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull frequently breaks the fourth wall and furthers the film’s surrealism until the audience becomes a part of Hank’s amazing world.
Don’t pass over the chance to live the spirit of adventure with Hank and Manny this 4th of July weekend. Find tickets and showtimes right here, and check out the trailer for Swiss Army Man below.