A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Written & Directed by Roman Coppola
Starring Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Katheryn Winnick & Patricia Arquette
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Perhaps the more appropo title for this bantam, well-intentioned yet refractorily flawed indie would be “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlie Sheen”. What starts as a literal journey into the internal appurtenance of one playboy Charlie Swan, ‘A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” ultimately ends as a low budget, 80 minute ode from one son of Hollywood privilege to his troubled, yet talentedly consistent, equally privileged best friend.
The pairing of writer/director Roman Coppola (‘CQ’) and star/influence Charlie Sheen is one of those on-paper duo’s film lovers and societal sensationalists only dream about; an interesting, yet still unproven feature director and the most volatile actor of this (or any) generation in his first major film role of some 8 years (being longtime friends, one can only imagine what the ‘Apocalypse Now’ play dates must have entailed). With Sheen falling deeper into the ‘Dancing With the Stars’ territory of over saturated irrelevance, his creatively viable “comeback” has not quite lived up to its lofty expectations (or, at least, his own). The national ‘Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour’ turned out to be a no-act excuse to further sensationalize an already certifiable sensation; FX ‘Anger Management’ suffers from the same need for edginess at all costs hindering so many contemporary situational comedies; although, say what you will about ‘Anger Management’, it has extrapolated on the conservatively proven Tyler Perry TV model, allowing Sheen an escape with the culmination of a 90 straight episode broadcast run.
Charles Sheen (née Swan) is a successful Hollywood graphic design president in the throws of middle-aged relationship precariousness. His social support system consists of an amorously insecure financial manager (Bill Murray) and a struggling comedian (Jason Schwartzman), both of whose palpable neurosis make them more enabler than confidante; there is also Swan’s still loving, understanding ex wife (Patricia Arquette), a hyper jealous new lover (Katheryn Winnick) and a cast of Coppola sibling, indie quirk regulars (Stephen Dorf, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aubrey Plaza amongst them) all more than ready to offer there own take on the saliva inducing psychoanalytic capabilities of Swan’s mania. Swan is a womanizer, a party animal of the tallest order (sound familiar?), but also a lovelorn idealist and a loyal friend. As he navigates between the stylized clutter of his mind and the unapologetic reality of life, the paper-thin moral compass of Sheen’s own excess warps all suspended disbelief needed for a relatable compassion with him.
With ‘Anger Management’ being as clear an example of the new Hollywood template for financial success, it is refreshing to see Sheen allowing himself to embark on such out-there introspection as this. With such an extended sit-com resume, it is inevitable that the rapid fire pace of the genre seep into the foundation of his acting, unfortunately leaving the suave naiveté of ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Platoon’ far behind. Perhaps aware of this, Sheen stays hidden behind purple aviator glasses throughout, never quite allowing for the emotional connection (essentially) a biopic should be able to provide. As Swan contemplates his past, women and fortune, Swan’s laugh track expected disconnect is unsurpassable, creating ‘…Charles Swan III’ ultimate flaw.
Schwartzman’s Bob Ross-in-tennis-gear Kirby Star and Murray’s desperately well-intentioned Saul are predictably reliable, limited roles. Being founding members of the Wes Anderson/(young) Coppola universe since ‘Rushmore’, their veteran presence comes as a virtual expectation in ‘…Charles Swan III’. These performances work, although no one seems to take much seriousness in the script, looking as if just going through standard motions of filmmaking, choosing to curtail creative possibility for generally unfounded weirdness.
The film does have a zany, meta-energy that undeniably exudes throughout an unfortunately disjointed and surprisingly uninspired script. Though driven by (essentially) real-life performances, effectively micro-budgeted leftfield art direction (Swan’s office sofa being a man-sized hot dog, mustard, relish and all) and a color palette dripping in nostalgic neon’s, ‘…Charles Swan III’ does offer something in the way of the visually stimulating experience it aims at, yet its bizzaro-world representation of Hollywood melodrama, and the fine line of surreality its most treasured lineages (especially) suffer through, provide a scope that such a constricted runtime simply will not allow for. Although manageable, the 80+ minute length of ‘A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III’ serves as a disjointed adventure somewhere between the dualist realities of ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind’ (perhaps no coincidence that all three directed by accomplished 90s era music video visionaries).
Roman Coppola has held 2nd unit director positions on virtually the entire Wes Anderson filmography, in addition to a co-writer credit (with subsequent ‘Best Original Screenplay’ Academy Award nomination) on 2012’s blissfully satisfying ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, and with ‘…Charlie Swan III’ he manages to capture some of that feel. This is a fun, lighthearted romp through excess that audiences should find enjoyable enough; flawed yet entertaining and painless.
– Steve Rickinson