In the feature film debut from DANIELS, the music video and commercial directorial team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, another Daniel—Daniel Radcliffe—plays the title character. This third Daniel, known to the entire world as Harry Potter, is now called Manny, named, with the same juvenile sardonicism that almost christened a British polar research ship Boaty McBoatface, in the script written by DANIELS. The in-joke is that Manny isn’t a man, exactly, but a former man; a corpse whose utility now supersedes his humanity.
To whom is Manny’s lifeless body useful? His new best friend Hank (Paul Dano), a lonely, suicidal castaway, finds Manny’s body washed up on the shore of the presumably deserted island. The film never discloses how long Hank has been in this remote location or how he got there. He’s unkempt with a scraggly beard, but his phone still has some battery power left. Later, Hank admits to running away from a life so unsatisfying and disappointing that what flashes before him as he attempts to bring about an early demise is a ride on a city bus.
As unthinkingly selfish as the little boy in Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree,” the original tale of indoctrination to male entitlement, Hank projects his needs, both physical and emotional, onto Manny, who is gradually regaining sentience and motility, though severely diminished. Still, Manny’s talents are largely corporeal and involuntary, and Hank exploits them unrelentingly, offering in exchange lessons in a developmentally stunted worldview. If Manny, dressed in a suit, asks childishly naïve questions, in his answers Hank reveals he’s the one stuck in a state of permanent adolescence.
The current darlings of the music video world, DANIELS have the potential to visually transform film. But not in the way they’re going about it in this feature-length debut. For all the startling winsomeness of some of the movie’s visual effects, the majority divulge an immaturity in DANIELS’s ability to tell a story. Every uplifting, sunlit fantasy is countered by at least three coarse or obscene sequences. This exhibits either a stubborn and bold indifference to what most viewers find repulsive in hopes of lowering the bar Judd Apatow style, or an unconscious filtering of the puerile minds belonging to a couple of man-children.
Let’s hope it’s the latter, and that DANIELS won’t waste their talents by entrenching their storytelling in mere defiance against etiquette. If anything demonstrates their talents, it’s their inclusion of the oddball score by Manchester Orchestra members Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, a phonic collage that combines diegetic sound with swelling orchestration. It’s beautiful and deserving of better subject matter than a farting corpse. After all, if we know everyone poops, why do they have to make a movie about it?