We often bash Hollywood for having no new ideas, and just rehashing the same ten things over and over again, and releasing clumps of uninspired cookie cutter genre messes (most recently the “dark fairy tale” trend). But we tend to forget that original ideas are still indeed being made into films, and they can have strong potential to suck too. This film is a bold example of that.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is the directorial debut of Roman Coppola (who co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom). It tells a tale of Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen), a 1970s ad executive who just got dumped by a woman named Ivana, who he thinks was his true love. The film is spent going in and out of reality, darting between past and present, and skating the lines between storytelling and random nonsense. Sheen wears sunglasses the entire film. Even at night.
Though, how original is Charles Swan, really? The film felt like it was borrowing from so many other films, almost to a distracting degree. There was a strong Fellini influence, with Swan having daydream sequences with his past lovers, resulting in bizarre musical and dance numbers in surreal environments. We often had to deal with a meta self-awareness as Swan comments on his dream-states with present day reflective remorse, ala Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And of course the neuroses of channeling Woody Allen via rambling through the film, focusing and chasing the one girl that he thought he was made for. The only problem is that all of these influences are only done with half the effort. Roman Coppola just presents the ideas and hopes that they will all cohesively blend together. It results in an 8 1/2 without the grandiose whimsy. Eternal Sunshine without the great premise. Annie Hall without a compelling Annie. It just doesn’t work. Charles Swan isn’t even half of a film. It’s like a quarter of a film.
If I try and string together the actual linear narrative of this movie, my brain starts to hurt. Actually, I think only two scenes in the entire film actually matter to what would be considered the plot. The opening scene of the film, in which Charles tells the audience that his girlfriend Ivana has left him, and then near the end when he confronts Ivana on her front lawn in what would I guess be considered the emotional peak of the movie. But even this cathartic moment feels unjustly highlighted because the film never earns the right to make us actually feel anything genuine about their relationship. Because the entire film is spent rambling about dating in general, or just sputtering what I guess would be considered quirky dream sequences or whatever. I didn’t care specifically about Ivana. I was never led to believe I was supposed to. In fact, most of the other characters in the film referred to her as “a bitch”, and “not good for Charles”. In other words, what is the POINT of this movie…? WHY should I care…?
It didn’t help that Charlie Sheen can’t act his way out of a paper bag anymore. I won’t debate whether or not he was a good actor back in the day, I’m know he was. He was great in Platoon, he was funny in the Hot Shots movies, and his cameo in Ferris Bueller is legendary (“I’m in here for drugs…”). But he spent however many years losing all of his edge doing awful sitcom jokes on Two and a Half Men, and then rotted his brain on that irritating “Winning” bender he annoyed America with a couple years ago. He just wasn’t good in Charles Swan at even delivering basic lines. The above mentioned emotional peak of the film has Sheen crying on Ivana’s lawn, which was delivered with about the impact of a fly landing on my arm. The rest of the cast isn’t anything to write home about either. Bill Murray is completely underutilized at being Bill Murray, and spends the whole movie looking like he has a cold and not wanting to be there. Patricia Arquette was dressed in what looked like a tacky pirate costume. And to continue this movie’s half-assed effort to be Annie Hall, I’m pretty sure Jason Schwartzman was just trying to imitate Tony Roberts (no relation).
There were some redeemable things about the film though. I liked the art direction and cinematography for the most part. It has a good 1970s aesthetic. I liked how short it was, because it didn’t drag on to the point where I wanted to completely give up on it. I mean, to its credit, while I didn’t like the overall narrative, I was kind of interested in what the film was going to do next. I guess despite being a random hodgepodge of nothingness and failed ideas, at least it’s not boring. The soundtrack is decent as well, though I felt they went for too many “music moments” that didn’t quite hit. I could tell that sometimes Coppola was trying to emulate his buddy Wes Anderson, but he ain’t no Wes Anderson. And Charles Swan ain’t no Life Aquatic.
To randomly punch home that he didn’t know how to correctly make a real film, Coppola ends the movie with a fourth wall breaking credit intro with all of the cast members saying to the camera their names and who they played in the film, set to live piano music on a beach. Then the camera pans past the entire film crew (who are waving at the camera), and ends with a shot in front of a mirror showing us Roman Coppola sitting in the director’s chair, until he says “cut” and the film ends. Did he really just end the film by showing us that he was making a film? That’s a very “second year film school” move, bro.
4.5 out of 10