Despite being clearly an auteur work, a result of Netflix letting Snowpiercer‘s Bong-Joon Ho off-leash, Okja feels weirdly like reverse-engineered weirdness. The bare storyline is actually pretty dry, so a lot of showy performative flourish gets added to try to make it pop, but it rarely does. Jake Gyllenhaal, in particular, goes way over the top as a version of Tracy Morgan’s Brian Fellows on even more cocaine, but even Tilda Swinton gets sucked into it, trying to add any life into a dull corporate family sideplot and only succeeding in the pretty riveting opener. At its heart, Okja is about a girl and her superpig, which makes for a decently charming opening twenty minutes, where super-pig Okja is established as a caring and smart presence. But the main creature turns into a plot device rather than a character after she’s taken to New York by a Swinton’s Monsanto stand-in, and the charm of the film goes with it. The addition of the Animal Liberation Front helps insofar as Paul Dano is a lot of fun as a ski-mask wearing freedom fighter, but the movie seems to use them to push against GMO-based superfarming without offering anything approaching a nuanced critique . I’ve got nothing against giving Monsanto bad press, but Okja‘s critiques are shallow straw-man arguments, where Swinton is bad because her attempt at sustainable farming is a lovable, delicious mutant, I suppose? Pass the salt.
Directed by Bong-Joon Ho
Starring Seo-hyeon Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal
Rotten Tomatoes (86%)
Your reaction to the phrase “Daniel Radcliffe plays a talking corpse with magic farts” might tell you whether Swiss Army Man is for you, but an even better litmus test is probably your reaction to “feels like a ninety minute version of a dark YouTube short directed by Wes Anderson”. Swiss Army Man is the kind of movie where any change in the soundtrack is introduced by the characters breaking the fourth wall and starting to hum it out, which is a nice touch in itself but serves as fair warning to those who can’t take a little precociousness. But after playing its hand fairly early, with Paul Dano riding a corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe across the sea like a fart-powered jetski in the first five minutes, Swiss Army Man mostly fails to come up with justification to keep going after that. The only reason it works at all is, oddly, Daniel Radcliffe as the corpse (named Manny, naturally). Radcliffe is clearly having fun, and the conceit of a corpse trying to understand life and love through the ravings of a stranded man is sporadically fun thanks to his line reading and the amount of physical comedy he gets out of simply not being able to move very much. But the more energetic and seemingly endless montages of Manny being used as a gun, or a makeshift razor, or (ugh) a water source grow old fast, even though they lead to two fantastic laughs (one involving an animatronic penis, one involving an unfortunate raccoon). There’s enough creativity here to break the internet as a short film, but it really doesn’t work as much more than a curiousity at feature length.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Directed by the Daniels
Starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe
Rotten Tomatoes (69%)