A Glimpse into the Mind of Charles Swan III: Rome Festival Review
Charlie Sheen stars with back-up from Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette in Roman Coppola’s California fantasy
Writer-director Roman Coppola could hardly find a subject farther afield from his film-savvy debut drama CQ than A Glimpse into the Mind of Charles Swan III, a disconcerting showcase for Charlie Sheen’s comic talents that attempts to exploit widespread public interest in the actor’s colorful, controversial life through winking parallels. The TV fan base who loved him in Two and a Half Men and Anger Management are really the only imaginable audience for this off-the-wall comedy about an unrepentant L.A. playboy trying to come to terms with a broken heart. Still, a nice supporting cast that includes Patricia Arquette, Jason Schwartzman and a droll, too-little-seen Bill Murray should give the A24 release a boost when it’s released in the U.S. next February and spice up the red carpet at the Rome Film Festival, where the film inexplicably occupies a competition slot.
With such an in-house cast of extended Coppola family sparklers, one would think things couldn’t go too wrong in the comedy department, but they have little chance to oil the wheels of a creaky script written around Sheen. His swaggering, clowning portrayal of Swan, a successful graphic designer with naked women on the brain, has likeable moments of sheer absurd humor. But as a latter-day Being John Malkovich (where Sheen appeared in a brief self-parody), the film lacks style, wit and originality.
The story is summed up in the animated outpourings of Swan’s brain as he answers questions from a shrink. Yes, 80% of his mind is filled with female body parts, and the little that’s left is for granny, best friend Kirby (Schwartzman), sister Izzy (Arquette) and his pet tucan. This is as deep as Swan goes. Later sequences extolling the female body (“the academy of sexy women”) and decrying their demands (“the secret society of ball busters”) repeat the theme of Swan’s harem fantasy; this seems to be the root of his inability to understand why his live-in lover Ivana (the appealing Katheryn Winnick of Love and Other Drugs) is upset when she finds a drawer full of porn shots of his ex’s. He’s truly in love with her, though, and childishly distressed when she leaves him over – for him -- so little. (Okay, there’s also the question of an unexplained diaphragm in his car.)
Rushing out of the house in Ray Bans and a silk dressing gown, he maladroitly disposes of a garbage bag full of the titillating photos by tossing them into a scenic canyon, then comically rolls his classic Caddy down the hill into a neighboring swimming pool. The shiny antique car, with fried eggs painted on one door and bacon strips on the other, is a good joke when it first appears, but its continual presence is sadly overdone. On the other hand, one never tires of examining the artwork and tasteful art deco furniture in Swan’s flashy pad, which offers some relief from the flip storyline.
The three people around to listen to his whining about Ivana are his accountant Saul (Murray) whose own wife is threatening to walk out, his married sister Isabelle (Arquette) whose new book has just been rejected for publication, and hairy buddy Kirby, a stand-up comic about to release a new recording. They visit him in the hospital, where he turns out to have heartburn, and stand by him through his painful break-up and near-arrest on DUI charges, all intercut with Swan’s surreal, self-dramatizing fantasies that look like Wes Anderson outtakes. Suffice it to say, for insights into a dizzy West Coast lifestyle, Californication is a more substantial reference point.
Coppola, who did at least some of the camerawork for D.P. Nick Beal, has a good eye for lenses and unexpected screen angles, though the film’s overall 1980s look grows frothy and stale, like the choice of vintage music and songs meant to make everything funnier.
On the positive side of the ledger, it’s nice to hear Sheen chatting away in fluent Spanish with his housekeeper, mirrored in Izzy’s Orthodox wardrobe and references to Hannukah. An encounter with a Russian taxi driver, who stings Swan for Beluga caviar and vodka, is fast and funny.
Venue: Rome Film Festival (competition), Nov. 15, 2012
Production company: American Zoetrope
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Katheryn Winnick, Aubrey Plaza, Dermot Mulroney, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Director: Roman Coppola
Screenwriter: Roman Coppola
Producers: Roman Coppola, Youree Henley
Executive producers: Michael Zakin, Robert Maron
Director of photography: Nick Beal
Production designer: Elliott Hostetter
Music: Liam Hayes
Costume designer: April Napier
Editor: Robert Schafer
Sales: Cinetic Media, Independent
No rating, 86 minutes.