REVIEW: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III [2013]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 86 minutes | Release Date: February 8th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: A24 / FilmBuff
Director(s): Roman Coppola
Writer(s): Roman Coppola

“What are all these shoes?”

Yeah, so Roman Coppola definitely threw the kitchen sink in much earlier than the moment he actually put it onscreen at the end of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. But I don’t think anyone would expect different from a post-“tiger blood” Charlie Sheen for all intents and purposes playing his own crazy self jumping through a bunch of fever dreams on a broken heart. We’d like to believe the actor’s noggin is filled to the brim with depraved and lecherous fantasies yet the truth is probably closer to a palpable fear of being alone. For he and his character Charlie Swan, love isn’t necessarily a bond built on emotional attachment, honesty, or monogamy. No, it’s a relationship wherein you come home to a young, free spirit promising never to let go.

Unfortunately for Swan, his latest infatuation has released herself from his ruinously limp grip. It only takes Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) one look at a photo of her naked body piled inside a drawer of her boyfriend’s previous conquests to understand enough was enough. Whether she was leaning towards leaving anyway, beginning an affair with her acting class partner, or seriously trying to work things out through a constant barrage of half-hearted forgiveness, at some point we all must decide if love can sustain without help. Swan of course thinks so, pleading from his stationary position by the door as she walks through it. Wrestling with the idea that he should hate her for bailing, the semi-joking retorts describing her youthfully succulent body show his ‘love’—while pure—wasn’t storybook.

Luckily for us, this is exactly where the fun begins. As meticulous as ever in his detailed set direction, gorgeously lit cinematography, and authentic 70s aesthetic, any question about whether Coppola’s debut masterpiece CQ was a fluke visually is erased. Charles Swan is a sumptuous buffet of jam-packed set pieces flickering from its namesake’s eccentric graphic designer’s reality to his skewed vision of the past and warped fantasies of beautiful women ceaselessly shooting him in the heart. It’s no mistake he winds up in the hospital with a possible heart attack hours after being dumped. This is a mid-life crisis Sheen is all too familiar with after publicly imploding in lunatic rants. Love has scorned Swan and sapped all creative energy from his revered, genius mind. Moving on seems impossible and yet salvation requires it.

Rather than watch the usual sentimental laundry list of memories searching to understand where it all went wrong, Coppola exposes us to the delusions of a lothario traversing an emotional abyss. Comedic antics ensue with physical laughs, quirkily over-the-top vignettes, and cheesy homage effects bolstering hammy line deliveries. We’re transported from Swan’s fit of rage attempting to discard Ivana’s shoes over a cliff to his car crashing into a swimming pool to the zanily covert operations of the SSBB (Secret Society of Ball-Busters) to a leisurely jaunt on fake horses with best friend Kirby (Jason Schwartzman). Nothing is off-limits, nothing too far-out. Where our introduction to Swan is through a Terry Gilliam-inspired animated collage of naked women and pop culture spilling out from his head, what follows depicts those thoughts in action.

Completely shot on location in Hollywood, CA, one may see Charles Swan as Coppola’s love letter to a city much different than CQ‘s European je ne sais quoi of Paris and yet just as indelible to his soul. There is a looser vibe in its depiction of the 70s with dream interludes of Schwartzman’s goofy stand-up comedian, Bill Murray‘s talent manager Saul morphing into both an unimpressed cowboy and giddy spy loving the SSBB’s pursuit, or Winnick and Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s Victoria finding themselves transformed into any number of antagonistic forces looking to dispatch of Swan’s chauvinist. Heck, even Charlie himself fantasizes a musical number from the grave to bid adieu to the ex-lovers his deranged mind believes would show at his funeral. It’s the many manifestations of a lost cause’s abandonment complex.

As such, it’s also a perfect vehicle for Coppola to show his music video chops with hard-edged delineations between episodes. A master at gimmicky experimentations, he can go from a captivating scene of Sheen and Winnick soundlessly fighting during the slow crawl of a car wash to a casual drive around the city in a classic car adorned by giant bacon and eggs decals while rocker Liam Hayes croons above the imagery. So many bits and pieces could stand on their own aesthetically and comically, Swan’s glue providing the unorthodox and unfiltered catalyst for each. We’ve all had weird ideas when suffering in pain and yearning for times too soon past. But while they usually stay in the recesses of our minds, Coppola doesn’t waste the opportunity to bring them to life.

It’s a self-aware romp with a ton of actors working the cameras and having a blast without any need for absolute seriousness. Murray and Schwartzman are hysterical, Aubrey Plaza and Patricia Arquette calmly supportive, and Winnick and Winstead beautifully vindictive. And at the center of them all is a rejuvenated Sheen partaking in yet another quest for the spotlight after righting a rapidly diminishing star. At times too on-the-nose and perhaps too wordy in his matter-of-fact delivery, Sheen and Swan meld into one creature full of impulse without consequence. Does either deserve better or even a chance at happiness despite ruining multiple opportunities for redemption via self-destruction? Probably not. But as Hollywood celebrities and our infatuation of them teach, the pretty people somehow always end up finding that silver lining to keeping going.

[1] Charlie Sheen stars as Charles Swan III in A24’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)
[2] Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Charlie Sheen in A24’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)
[3] Aubrey Plaza stars as Marnie in A24’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)

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