Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 47 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 3; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone…
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Tom Hanks’ Chuck Noland in Cast Away transformed a volleyball into “Wilson” for companionship, but Paul Dano’s Hank imagines an even better companion, a corpse that he calls “Manny,” washed up on the beach of the island on which he is stranded. The two brother/directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, calling themselves “The Daniels,” have unleashed one of the most bizarre, surreal films you are likely to see this year. It is perhaps the ultimate Fart Film, and until The Big Friendly Giant mellowed me on such questionable juvenile joys, I would have walked out on it—as reportedly did a lot of the audience at its Sun Dance world premier.
Hank is literally at the end of his tether after a period of time spent alone on a small island when his ship went down. He has tied a makeshift rope around his neck and is about to step off a stool made from debris when he spots a human form lying on the sand. He still almost kills himself, but finally managing to extricate himself from the noose, runs over to the body and tries to resuscitate it. There is no response. He gives up, but them the gasses inside the body twitches it and brings on a semblance of life. Not only that, but the stream of gasses become so powerful that Hank is able to ride the body through the waters as if on a jet ski. (This recalled my junior high days: every guy but me envied a friend because he could summon at will a powerful blast of noxious air, calling himself “jet propelled!)
They land on a distant beach bordered by a large forest, mostly pines. Calling his companion Manny, Hank sets up a camp using discarded items he finds strewn through the area. Manny proves as useful in as many ways as the famous Swiss Army Knife. Besides companionship he provides fountains of water from his mouth. He is of help with hunting food and finding shelter. The corpse has an erection, and the penis, Hank discovers, points due north, so he now has a compass.
Are you still with me? Hank converses with the seemingly naïve Manny, explaining the joys and setbacks of love and sex. We see, in flashback, his attraction to a woman he sees on a bus, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose picture is on his cell phone. When Manny falls in love with her, Hank dons the remains of a found dress and make-shift wig and plays her in various situations. Later there is a meet-up with Sarah that is not the culmination of Hank’s or Manny’s expectations. She is freaked out when she sees her image on Hank’s cell phone.
From what I have read, watching this film is like a Rorschach test. Those who walked out on it obviously saw it as a disgusting juvenile attempt to be funny (and it is!). Others have seen it as a free spirited visual meditation on modern life, on loneliness. Friendship, and living in and enjoying the moment, or an exploration of human fantasy and imagination. One reviewer even saw it as a spoof of recycling, Hank at the beginning using debris from the tiny island to send out notes for rescue, and then using the ultimate “garbage, a dead body for a new use. Also there is in the forest, his use of an old dress, and such for his wig and crude hut. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what it is. It certainly is the strangest role that Daniel Radcliffe has played, or ever will. The one thing I can promise is that there is no other film out there like it!
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of VP.