Film Review: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Roman Coppola covers much of the same ground—an artist’s meltdown in swank surroundings—as sister Sofia, but his breezily charming film is more heart-on-the-sleeve warm and visually generous.

Successful graphic artist Charles Swan (Charlie Sheen) is having a meltdown in the City of Angels. His girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick)) is dumping him after putting up with his womanizing ways one too many times, and although he’s never been at a loss for female companionship, this one has really gotten to him. He goes on an extended bender wherein he accidentally drives his vintage Cadillac into a swimming pool, is nearly arrested for DUI, tries to trap Ivana (who’s having a suspected, illicit affair herself) through the use of bugging devices, tries to break into a publishing house, and makes a general sloppy spectacle of himself.

The way A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III starts out, one expects little good from Roman Coppola’s portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerk. The all-too-obvious parallels with Sheen’s real-life shenanigans, the been-there/seen-them cast of actors familiar from sister Sofia’s projects, and the glibly hip tone engender little more than a slightly bemused, ho-hum skepticism. And yet the damn thing starts to grow on you. Coppola has a strong, inherited visual sense and, aided by Nick Beal’s lush cinematography, turns the film into something of a love letter to the louche allure of Los Angeles, which at times approaches the flavor of Robert Altman’s great The Long Goodbye. Apartment house landscapings acquire a Rousseau verdancy, the city skies never seemed bluer or clearer, and Coppola’s decision to set his story in a stylized 1970s world of Deco-influenced imagery—reminiscent of the work of artist Richard Amsel—is particularly felicitous. The fantasy extends into the film’s happy dearth of modern technology (cell-phones, laptops, etc.) which has largely ruined so much current film exposition vide its ruthless problem-solving (or creating?) efficiency.

You relax into the movie’s non-sequitur-filled, shaggy-dog quality and realize that the participants are enjoying themselves so much, you might as well as give in and join the party. At times the film recalls a mini-8 1/2 with its tortured, rapacious hero, beset by female fantasies which range from the salaciously ridiculous (babes dressed as attacking Indians with Bill Murray making his entrance as, yes, John Wayne) to the misogynistically funny (the Secret Society of Ball Busters, consisting of women bent on exposing and punishing their mates’ unfaithfulness, which Sheen may indeed have had a hand in creating). Whenever any of this becomes too overheated, Liam Hayes’ simple, lovely chansons, lending a period flavor themselves and recalling the great era of L.A.-based singer-songwriters, calm things down.

A Glimpse will be not to everyone’s taste, but by the time Coppola inserted a piquant, marionette version of Swan as a party divertissement and a lovely, impromptu duet between Sheen and Winnick doing Antonio Carlos Jobim’s great “Waters of March,” I was one happy camper. The lovely, highly personal end-credit sequence, recalling the fun way Orson Welles used to wrap up his movies, has yet more of the throwaway charm that is at the heart of the film.

Although I wish Sheen had shed his ubiquitous RayBan sunglasses more frequently, he does still demonstrate here that irresistibly jaded, raffish, kimono-clad magnetism which has made him so internationally popular. He remains one highly empathetic mess, and he mercifully sheds the cool to deliver an impassioned avowal of love to his lost lady that feels genuine. He has a scene conversing in Spanish to his seen-it-all housekeeper, observed by his enchanting pet toucan, which possesses an unaccountable charm.

Winnick is gorgeous, smart and easily appealing enough to make you believe that her leaving could destroy a man. A be-turbaned Patricia Arquette, as Swan’s frustrated writer sister, adds some ingratiating glamour, and the wryer-than-ever Murray’s very puckishness seems to encapsulate the movie’s appeal. Jason Schwarzman does his usual forced, eccentric comic shtick as a stand-up comedian buddy of Swann’s endlessly waiting on his album cover design, but there is mercifully little of him.