A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Written and Directed by: Roman Coppola
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Katheryn Winnick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney
When Roman Coppola’s new film A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III was first announced, Charlie Sheen’s firing from Two and a Half Men and his subsequent public meltdown were still fresh in our minds. The movie was poised to capitalize on the situation by having him play a fictional character in a similar predicament, potentially adding an interesting meta layer to the story. However, now that the movie has been released a year and half later, things have changed. Sheen has returned to a successful TV career with Anger Management, “Winning!” is no longer a thing that people say, and most of the relevance that this movie might have once had now seems all but lost.
Still, putting aside Sheen’s antics, this is a new project from a frequent Wes Anderson collaborator that also happens to co-star Bill Murray and Jason Schwarztman. There must be something here to make it worth watching, right? Indeed, the cast does their best to milk some enjoyment out of the minimal script (assuming there even was one), and Coppola takes his love of kitsch to an extreme. Sadly, although the movie has some fun moments and a smattering of laughs, it never comes together in any meaningful way.
Sheen plays Charles Swan III, a successful graphic designer who is on the brink of a nervous breakdown after his girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) breaks off their relationship. It is somewhat unclear who was in the wrong, but Charles finds himself plagued with nightmares and fever dreams as he struggles to come to terms with the end of the relationship. In his time of need, he turns to his best friend Kirby (Jason Schwartzman), his manager Saul (Bill Murray) and his sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette) to help him through it.
Coppola has co-written a number of Wes Anderson’s recent films and also worked as a second unit director on several of his father and sister’s films. However, his only directorial credit to date is CQ, a 2001 movie that clearly established his obsession with ’60s spy shows and sci-fi movies. This particular movie appears to be set in the ’70s, but for no apparent reason other than to indulge his retro fetish.
Just like Jeremy Davies in CQ, Charles Swan is losing his grip on reality and imagines himself to be inside a spy movie along with several other surreal scenarios that play out as short vignettes. These are definitely the highlights of the film, filled with goofy props and snazzy costumes, although they don’t really contribute to the main narrative at all. The movie is also chock full of sight gags related to Swan’s profession, including a hot dog couch and a car with bacon and eggs painted on the side.
It’s clear that Coppola is more interested in these non-sequiturs than he is in the main plot. There is no real conflict in the movie aside from Swan’s internal struggle and the resolution feels pretty random and unremarkable. It all builds to a bizarre conclusion that breaks the fourth wall and essentially confirms that it was all a lark anyway.
Sheen has not had a major role in a movie since The Big Bounce in 2004, but he doesn’t seem out of place here. His performance is decent, although I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s a revelation either. It probably doesn’t help that he wears sunglasses throughout the entire film (another example of choosing an easy joke over substance). Bill Murray mostly sleepwalks through the film (which is still somewhat enjoyable), and Jason Schwartzman arguably steals the show. He plays a famous stand-up comedian named Kirby Star and the tongue-in-cheek segments showcasing his live act are pretty hilarious.
Overall, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is a frustrating concoction of half-baked ideas that feels like it was thrown together in a weekend. There is a certain charm that results from the haphazard, DIY nature of the film, and if only it was a bit funnier, I probably could have let it slide. There are some brief flashes of brilliance and fans of Murray and Schwartzman may still find it to be worth checking out. Still, given the talent involved, there really is no excuse for such a lacklustre final product. — Sean
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is currently available on VOD via FilmBuff.
Recommended If You Like: I Heart Huckabees, CQ, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou