A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III feels like it’s been directed by two people. It hasn’t. Roman Coppola is the lone director, as well as the lone screenwriter.
But, it has that feeling because it very much feels like two movies have been fused together – a straight-forward break-up movie with a sitcom mentality and a heartfelt hyperactive ode to art deco and 70’s art and fashion.
We start with the break-up movie. After being dumped, a devastatingly unstable womanizer named Charles Swan III (played by none other than Charlie Sheen) finds his life slowly careening. He realizes he may not find a woman like Ivana (played by Katheryn Winnick) ever again and he’s getting the feeling as if he wouldn’t be missed if he were to disappear. Lots of talks about his absent will and constant reminders that he’s an off-kilter mess only stabilize this more for him.
Swan also has an imagination that gets the best of him. He often daydreams about an alternate reality where women run around scantily-clad and him and his musical buddy Kirby Star goof and play games. Star is played by Jason Schwartzman who seems to be channeling painter Bob Ross on a sugar rush.
The film never has a subtle way to change from Charles’ normal, everyday life to the absurd. Sometimes the transition is as quick as a finger snap and others are slow transformations where we’re unsure if Swan is actually living this bizarre scenario or conjuring it up in his head.
On one hand, by having these two worlds be as extreme as they are makes for an inventive film from Coppola – but, not everything soars or even takes off.
The ridiculous fun between Swan and Star plays out like an eye-rollingly silly National Lampoon sketch that never really finds a place to fit in the grand scheme of the picture. The film has a distinct style to it and if Coppola gets too wound up in his visuals and his campiness, the main focus on the story drifts away. These moments feel like Coppola realizes he doesn’t have enough scenes to make A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III into a full-length feature, therefore, he feels the need to add ridiculousness to beef up the runtime or the “quirkiness” factor.
For those who have been tossing the name “Roman Coppola” in your head for the duration of this review and trying to think where you recognize him from, let me solve the mystery. The script for Moonrise Kingdom, which Coppola and Wes Anderson penned, is currently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Coppola has also worked with Anderson on a number of his quirky films.
Wes Anderson influences run abound in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. They’re all part of the film’s style. But, again, the style can sometimes take hold of the film and run it into the middle of nowhere. Coppola’s movie constantly shows items to the audience and asks, “isn’t this weird? Remember these ole’ retro things?”. These items are neat, but let’s focus on the story, Roman.
However, I was never frustratingly irritated by the film’s in-your-face stylistic choices, except for those times where I was distracted and it affected the film’s primary focus. I was actually impressed with Coppola’s eye to detail. But, to say his eye for detail isn’t going to be everyone’s cup o’ tea is an understatement.
Another distraction is Sheen’s performance as Charles Swan. As hard as you try to separate this character from the warlock antics we witnessed Sheen unfold in real life, the similarities are uncanny. It’s almost as if the role was written for him.
But, something is starting to leak into Sheen’s acting. Attributes he’s shown before on the hit TV show Two and a Half Men. He has an appearance that suggests he knows what everybody thinks of him in real life. It’s here when this self-conscious attitude seeps into his portrayal of an on-screen fictionalized womanizer.
When Sheen is genuinely acting and is upset over this break-up, we believe in him and it’s a return to form for the wayward actor. But, once an hourglass figure is dangled in front of his face, a switch is flicked and he starts to put on a show for all those who know of his off-screen activities. He knows that his audience realizes that this role is a cake walk for him – and he isn’t disagreeing.
From watching A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, you can tell that Coppola has a fondness for vintage entertainment. For instance, those uncut dance numbers you’d see in classic musicals as well as three-shot instrumental performances that slowly fade in and out with shots overlapping one another.
He knows how to replicate the look and loose structure of these whimsical trips but, in the future, if Coppola wishes to make a film that pays tribute to the things he loves while telling a story, he needs to watch that his loves don’t get in the way of what really matters – a story. I wouldn’t say A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is unbalanced or uneven. I think it’s a hodgepodge of different ideas that are trying to work in a very complicated and uncontrollable universe.
Some of it works and some of it doesn’t. But, as the film wraps itself up, you can’t help but appreciate the stuff that worked rather than focusing on the elements that didn’t.