Albert Einstein, Virginia Woolf, any random schmuck in the Home Depot parking lot. These are just a few of the millions of people whose minds contain more intelligence and insight than Charles Swan III. Nevertheless, Roman Coppola’s new film sticks us with exactly what it’s title says – A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III.
Swan is a commercial artist reeling from a breakup with his live-in girlfriend. She left him because he still seemed to fantasize about other women, including his ex-girlfriend. In truth, Swan fantasizes a lot anyway. At the outset, it seems like the film is going to put Swan in all sorts of fantasy scenarios as a sort of update on THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. However, the truth of the matter is that the fantasy sequences only serve as material for Coppola to masturbate with the camera. Look! Now it’s a western! Look! Now it’s a pseudo-spy thriller! Look! Now, Sheen is butchering the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim so horribly, this film should probably be banned in Brazil.
You might think I’ve glossed over the plot, but I haven’t. Swan’s girlfriend leaves him and he spends the rest of the film’s 86 minutes bitching and moaning about it. That’s it. That’s the plot. Other people played by some talented actors enter his life, but Swan is often unable to see beyond his own misery. It doesn’t matter much anyway. It seems like most of the actors in this production are only there as a favor to someone.
Charlie Sheen plays Charles Swan III. But does he really? He spends the whole film hiding behind his sunglasses and it often seems like we are taking a glimpse inside the mind of Charlie Sheen and not Charles Swan III. There are undoubtedly similarities between Swan and Sheen’s very public persona of late. But the distinction between the two is rarely made and it almost seems like Sheen can’t overcome his own ego and make us feel like he is embodying a character. It shouldn’t be like that. Sheen is a very capable actor and has proven this on many occasions. But the material here is so thin that Sheen is unwilling or unable to break out of the barriers he has set up for himself. Hence, when we see Swan getting drunk, trolling for tail or whining about how everyone is picking on him, there’s just no there there.
There is a brief moment towards the end when Swan pours his heart out to his ex. It is a genuinely touching and honest moment. But it is the only such moment in the entire film. A possible rebuttal to this review might be that the Swan character is supposed to be self-centered and petty. However, when your entire film proposes getting to know this character, there should be something there to know. Instead, what you see if pretty much what you get with Swan. The film has the distinction of being a so-called introspective film without containing a single morsel of introspection.
Sheen is not the most obnoxious person in A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III. That dubious honor goes to Jason Schwartzman and let’s stop pretending that this is the first time this has happened. Schwartzman, who also can be good when he’s reigned in just right, is at his hipster-ish worst here. He plays Swan’s best friend, a stand-up comic who obviously tries to be the next Lenny Bruce (Trust me, he isn’t.).
This is Roman Coppola’s first film in eleven years. His previous film, CQ, was one of my favorite films of 2001. I found the tale of growth from the point of view of a young filmmaker in 1969-70 compelling. The film was quirky, funny, romantic, introspective and full of fine visual flourishes. With CHARLES SWAN, Coppola seems to be repeating much of the same formula, but the only thing that comes through this time are the flourishes. The film is over-indulgent in the extreme and even a bit pretentious.
It’s a pretty film to look at, but when you take a glimpse inside the mind of Charles Swan III, all you see is Swan’s reflection. ½★ (out of ★★★★)