Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III opens with the title character (Charlie Sheen) standing in a spotlight while a largely unseen doctor examines his brain. There are no graphic shots of blood and gore; there’s merely a cartoon image of a brain superimposed over Swan’s head. As the examination takes place, images pop out of the brain and form into gigantic visual pileups. They all look like pop art collages, constructed almost entirely from images of food and either entirely naked women or specific parts of them, such as legs. The doctor determines that around 70% of his brain capacity is used exclusively for sex, while about 20% of what remains is reserved for his desires for power and money. When Swan turns his head, the doctor notices where information regarding basic bodily functions and everyday affairs are stored. In the front, there’s a small section devoted to personal relationships, most of which will be explored as the plot unfolds.
Charles Swan III is a graphic designer living in Los Angeles sometime during the 1970s. He has been a wreck ever since being dumped by his girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), who, among other things, didn’t appreciate his drawer full of Polaroids of his exes – or, more accurately, specific parts of them. He tried to get over her by driving to a secluded spot in Hollywood Hills and dumping a bag full of her shoes off the side of a mountain, although all he ended up doing was getting the bag stuck in the branches of a tree. The next thing he knows, he’s in his car as it rolls backwards down a hill, crashes through the fence line of someone’s backyard, and plunges into a pool. He’s then wheeled into the hospital, where he will have his heart tested even though there’s nothing really wrong with it.
One wonders if this film was made in part as a way for Charlie Sheen to ingratiate himself back into the public eye following his firing from the sitcom “Two and a Half Men” and his subsequent media meltdown. If this is the case, I don’t have any objections. I do, however, find myself questioning why this particular film had to be his vehicle for his comeback. There are some very good things about it, individual things that heighten the material at just the right moments. But as a whole, it doesn’t go as far as I think it should have gone. At just eighty-five minutes long, it feels as if it’s only scratching the surface; we know that Charles Swan can’t get over his ex, but that’s really about as deep as it goes. The rest is not only superficial but also has no real bearing on the overall plot and isn’t adequately developed.
We will, for example, be introduced to three important people in Swan’s life, all of whom have their own personal problems. These would be: His sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette), a writer who wants a very specific publishing house to accept her latest novel; his best friend Kirby Star (Jason Schwartzman), a musician who wants Swan to design his newest album cover; and his manager Saul (Bill Murray), who basically does nothing but brood over his seemingly irreconcilable marital problems. Something might have developed here, except none of these characters are examined at any great depth, least of all the Schwartzman and Murray roles. We will also witness as Swan becomes increasingly distracted by his longing for Ivana, which will affect his productivity, his sobriety, and his overall judgment.
Having said all that, Coppola works in some rather enjoyable flights of fancy, all of which stem from Swan’s imagination (he has been psychologically evaluated for having “rescue fantasies”). Right before coming to in the hospital, for instance, there’s a wonderfully staged scene in which Swan’s exes stand over his open grave and tearfully throw roses at him as he lies in his open casket; he then rises from his grave and performs a Broadway-style dance number with the exes. There’s also a scene where he and Kirby are dressed like cowboys and ride horses through the desert before having a run-in with a Native American tribe – who, of course, are comprised of Swan’s exes. And then there’s the final shot, in which the fourth wall is intentionally broken by having the cast say their names and the parts they played, pulling the camera back, up, and over to reveal the crew, and then panning over to a mirror so that Coppola himself can be seen sitting behind the camera.
I’m always wary going into films like this, simply because quirkiness is often times allowed to overshadow substance. That was certainly the case with the last project Coppola was involved with, Wes Anderson’s grossly overrated Moonrise Kingdom. In the case of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, it was clear that more of an effort was made. Alas, it wasn’t enough of an effort. I cannot fault the actors, who all do the best that they can, nor can I fault the concept, which is engaging. I can, however, fault Coppola and his editor Robert Schafer for stopping the story short. I see this film as merely the start of something great. All it needed was twenty to thirty more minutes of footage that delved deeper into the title character and the people closest to him. Who knows? Maybe all that is just waiting to be discovered in a director’s cut.
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