Written by Roman Coppola
Directed by Roman Coppola
Opens Feb. 15 in Toronto and Montreal
In the opening scene of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, the titular Swan (played by Charlie Sheen) is given a psych evaluation, wherein the screen is cluttered with bursting pop-art collages that consist of 30% nonsense and 70% T&A. Everything about the character is revealed in this scene; all of his fears, desires, fantasies, anxieties. Within the opening minute, the concept promised to us by the movie’s title is already fulfilled. Job done, fade to black, credits. This is not what the movie does, unfortunately, and it’s a doggone shame that it doesn’t. For an 86-minute movie, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is about 85 minutes too long.
The next scene is of a break-up between the successful graphic designer Swan and his girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), for which she is entirely in the right and he in the wrong. After she leaves him, Swan’s life begins to unravel and spirals into silliness, with him in desperate need of getting back his suddenly lost mojo. With the help of his singer-friend Kirby (Jason Schwartzman), his sort-of-accountant-friend Saul (Billy Murray), sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette), and secretary Marnie (Aubrey Plaza), Swan tries to do exactly that, but his journey of introspection is occasionally disrupted by random fits of uncommitted fantasy.
The first act or so of the movie adheres to the blueprint set up by the first scene, with writer-director Roman Coppola plunging us down the rabbit hole that is the mind of Charles Swan. There are surreal and purposely far-out sequences (one of which introduces us to Bill Murray as John Wayne, and another with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a member of the Secret Society of Ball Busters), but none of them really add much dimension or nuance to the character; Swan at the end of the movie is essentially the same as the guy in the opening minute. The fantasy scenes don’t help Swan grow as a character and are largely redundant.
Mr. Coppola forgoes this approach for a more orthodox one for the majority of the rest of the movie, but by then, what’s left? You can appreciate all the funky 1970s dress up (the movie itself is set in the 1970s), the occasional colour-popping photography and the ultra-chill score by Liam Hayes, but Mr. Coppola, who co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited with Wes Anderson, injects a nostalgia-inspired aesthetic into his movie without much of the heart or charm we’ve come to expect from his collaborations with the aforementioned.
What the film needs is an emotional core, and with a title like A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, what it really needed was an investment in the lead character; or any other, for that matter. The playboy womanizer Charles Swan is played with surprising conviction, and dare it be said, charm and charisma by Charlie Sheen, likely due to how closely Mr. Sheen’s private life parallels that of Swan’s, but the way the character is written makes him look petty and small. This has a lot to do with the movie’s casual sexist streak (see: the Secret Society of Ball Busters), which makes it hard to commiserate with Swan’s lady troubles.
The supporting cast, additionally, is either given cursory attention or none at all. Ms. Winnick suffers from Les Misérables syndrome, portraying her Ivana as either in the throws of extreme ecstasy or on the verge of a violent emotional breakdown. She isn’t fleshed out as a character, and we never get to really see why Swan is so hopelessly enamored with her. And Bill Murray, as awesome as he always is, simply shows up on screen with no real purpose or presence, as if he was in one of his Zombieland-type cameos. The same goes for the rest of the players involved, with the slight exception of Patricia Arquette. This is a sign of a writer and director who’s more concerned with the look, style and twee-factor of his film than for the characters that populate it.
For example, there’s a scene later on in the movie where Swan, who’s kitted out in a bowtie, fedora and tux, throws a trash can through the glass front door of a publishing company. He then runs away, gets in a cab, and asks the cabbie if he can buy any drugs from him. When he says he doesn’t have any, the cabbie then re-directs Swan to his Russian friend, who, in the car park of a donut shop, sells him $800 dollars worth of marijuana in a sardine tin (along with a complimentary bottle of vodka). Swan then hops back in the cab, yells, “I want to get drunk” in two different languages, and proceeds to shove a handful of pot into his mouth and chews voraciously.
This isn’t one of his spazzed-out daydream non-sequiturs, and, no, you don’t have to worry about spoilers because this has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. This is just one case of many where Mr. Coppola decides to indulge on every impetuous whim and moment where he must’ve thought, “hey, this is a cute and novel idea”, but wasn’t aware enough to realize that it would’ve served the movie better if said idea was left out of the final cut. He has a keen eye for wedging in the occasional green screen sequence and for creating a tongue-in-cheek mise en scène of cheesy 1970s decor (i.e. a hotdog sofa and a bacon-and-eggs-mobile), but there’s no sense of self-control when it comes to choosing what’s necessary and what’s ultimately useless in terms of plotting.
As a result, much of the movie feels disposable. This laissez-faire, caution-to-the-wind approach to storytelling may seem rational, if not necessary, when it comes to dealing with the impulse-driven state of mind of the title character (especially if he’s played by Charlie Sheen), but if all you have to offer is abject silliness and nothing else, it gets tedious, boring and repetitive. People will eventually lose interest in the character’s private life tailspin and tune out; no matter how intrepid or rebellious they first thought it was. Much like the whole Charlie Sheen saga itself, really.
– Justin Li