As he's questioned by a therapist in the opening scene of the film bearing his name, we see Charles Swan III's subconscious literally spurt out of his head. It's visualized as an animated collage largely made up of ladies' long, disembodied legs. It also indicates writer-director Roman Coppola's approach with A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, which might generously be described as cut-and-paste — or more accurately as "throw stuff to the wall and see what sticks."
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Though only the female side of Charles' family appear in the film, the "III" on his name carries the weight of legacy. Coppola and Sheen are both 47, both born to movie families, and go back together as far as Apocalypse Now. While elements of Swan's character come from designer Charles Swan III, who worked on Coppola père's City Magazine, the film knowingly piggybacks on publicity surrounding Sheen's libertinage. He's wearing a coke-hangover look here, including ubiquitous La Dolce Vita aviator shades that only come off for one scene, where he displays a heartbreak that is surprisingly affecting.
I say "surprisingly," because performance can do only so much to alleviate Charles Swan III's inconsequentiality. This has much to do with the way Coppola, feigning full disclosure, gingerly handles the depiction of hetero male fantasy life. Addressing the mingled worshipful-sordid tone of men's perceptions of women, Louis C.K. has said, "We think you're angels ... and we want to drown you in our cum." While this certainly has its cinematic possibilities, more often we wind up with frou-frou absurdities like Kevin Spacey dreaming of Mena Suvari naked in a bathtub of rose petals in American Beauty. If there is a third way, Charles Swan III hasn't found it.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Written and directed by Roman Coppola. Starring Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Patricia Arquette.
The film's "real-life" women don't come across much more lucidly than the action figures in Charles' fantasies. As the ex who's caused Charles' heartburn, Katheryn Winnick scarcely registers, her characterization limited to the trivializing tidbit that she used to hold funerals for her old toothbrushes as a little girl. Perhaps Charles Swan III's superficiality is meant to reflect that of a world where we mourn commercial goods, or the perspective of a subject whose mind airbrushes everything into a "layout" — but with neither the moral bite of satire or a voluptuary surrender that really basks in shallowness, it's a vague, unsatisfying work. Coppola has made an assemblage, an erotic autobiography in images not unlike the geysers from Charles' head which begin his film, but he's failed to set up provocative tensions or suggest new meanings. That this eruption ends with a photo shoot playing on the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink" is evidently meant as a self-aware joke but, like the movie it caps, it's a clunker.
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