A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III ain’t a pretty sight. It’s awfully cluttered and rather pointless within that narcissistic cranium, not to mention within the frames of this ostensibly playful and surreal flick. The setting is a Los Angeles plucked out of time, where a pastiche of self-conscious styles heads off in search of some substance, and comes up woefully short. Those of a litigious bent might be tempted to sue the title for false advertising – a glimpse would have done nicely; a whole film is cruel and excessive.
In fact, there’s a clubby incestuousness to this endeavour that spills onto the screen. The director is Roman Coppola and his star is Charlie Sheen. Yes, they’ve been tight since childhood, back when their daddies made a movie together – you know, that little thing called Apocalypse Now. Roman’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman, is also on hand here, as is Bill Murray. All three have worked on various Wes Anderson films, whose scripts Coppola has occasionally contributed to (most recently MoonriseKingdom), and whose sense of whimsy he seems keen to borrow. An outright theft might have been better.
The titular Swan (Sheen) is a graphic artist given to cars that are vintage and to a personal look that’s rooted somewhere in the seventies – he perpetually hides himself behind tinted aviator glasses. With good reason of late, since his girlfriend, Ivana, has just dumped him hard. Her departure ignites everything that follows and provides the reason for our journey into Swan’s troubled mental state. Problem is, beyond the troubles, not much is happening there. The guy is capable of self-interest, and certainly self-pity, but not of self-reflection or self-analysis. If the mind is a home, this one comes unfurnished.
That may be why Coppola, stylistic palette at the ready, rushes in to paint this blank canvas in all manner of odd hues. Initially, Swan’s unfortunate affair of the heart gives him a literal pain in the heart, and he finds himself in the hospital, where visits are paid by Izzy, his novelist sister (Patricia Arquette in abundant pre-Raphaelite curls), by Kirby, his best buddy (Schwartzman in an outrageous “Jew-fro”), and by Saul, his morose business manager (Murray in a long comb-over). Yep, lotta hair. So it’s definitely kind of wiggy, especially when Coppola starts to alternate between elaborate fantasy sequences and some semblance of realism – or, at least, L.A. realism.
Among the former: Swan imagines his funeral, followed by his resurrection, followed by an Astaire soft-shoe as he joyfully dances on his own grave. Then he, Kirby and Saul saddle up on horseback to ride into the badlands, when a tribe of Indian maidens in buckskin bikinis pierce them with their Cupid’s arrows. The list goes on, but I won’t. You’re welcome.
Among the latter: Swan gets discharged from the hospital and returns home, where the sum total of his accumulated wisdom is this lumpy interrogative: “Can you love someone and hate them too?” It would appear so and, to that end, he tracks down his ex-girlfriend for a confrontation that, in keeping with the general spirit, proves as thin as it is anti-climactic. However, en route, it must be said that Charlie is well cast as Charles, if only because his infamously heavy personal baggage adds weight to an otherwise free-floating role. In short, potentially at least, Sheen is much more interestingly weird than Swan.
And so we keep waiting for a glimpse inside that mind; for once, we hope an actor will step way out of character and play his own naked self. Sorry, no. This time, sadly, Charlie Sheen makes another bad decision – he sticks to the script.