Movie Review: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III- Roman Coppola’s Sophomore Effort is Disorganized, Forceful, and Ultimately Lazy

charles-swan-trailerDirector Francis Ford Coppola has given us many remarkable films and occasionally remarkable wine from his Napa Valley vineyard, but he’s also given us two examples of nepotism in Hollywood through his daughter Sophia Coppola and his son Roman Coppola. Luckily one of those examples of nepotism, Roman Coppola, has a good deal of talent when looking at his homage to European cinema debut film CQ and his co-author writing contributions to many Wes Anderson features, including the lesser known The Darjeeling Limited and the Academy Award nominated Moonrise Kingdom. However, if we were forced to judge Roman Coppola based on his second feature A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III on its own then it wouldn’t be a very flattering judgment. This disorganized film is a bombardment of forceful quirkiness and lazily thought out escapist sequences nonsensically spread out in the movie making it an incredibly arduous experience to sit through in its entirety. Charles Swan is one of those indie films that demands to be seen as unique when everything in it is repetitive cheap ploys instead of a genuine creative deviation from the norm. Everything about it feels forced from the obvious first draft script to the cheap 70s set design to the sloppy performance from Charlie Sheen. Clear potential in an idea can never forgive the messy outcome and Charles Swan is one of those movies that could have used a re-write or three before embarking on this obtuse definition of quirky. It’s obvious that Roman Coppola wants to escape the confines of the Wes Anderson shadow but with a rushed and vague piece of cinema such as this it’s best to revert back into that dependent shadow, at least for a while. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III lacks connectedness to the protagonist (or anyone for that matter), genuinely funny material, and a visual stamp making it feel as if it’s the uninventive straight to DVD version of a Wes Anderson film. This unfunny and unnecessarily strange film is an example of how filmmakers who are too comfortable and unchallenged will make lazy, inarticulate movies.

Roman Coppola’s script is a muddled romp through the semi-surrealist mind and life of a Don Juan-esque graphic designer named Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen) who is experiencing lover’s remorse after his love of this life’s current moment has left him. Basically the film is half escapist fantasy and half nonsensical blathering in reality that has no rhyme or reason relating to the characters, the plot, or the dreams. Likeability in character is not necessarily as important as likeability in presence and unfortunately Charlie Sheen as Charles Swan III has neither. While this could be blamed on Sheen himself it’s really an issue with the script and how nothing about the character seems relatable or sympathetic in any way. It’s difficult to actually describe the horrible mess that is the script of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III because it sacrifices genuine connection to a sympathetic problem, such as a breakup, for disposable fantasy sequences that aren’t exactly well written themselves. Whether it’s dancing in a graveyard or getting shot by an arrow as a cowboy there is nothing extremely inventive about the escapist dreams as they seem like more of an exercise in forcefully quirky dialogue and imagery than it is for actual plot relevance. Roman Coppola’s script is written around these odd visual ideas rather than incorporating them into a genuinely thought out story of a creative mind that is having trouble dealing with a breakup. Just because you go out of your way to be unusual or strange doesn’t mean it’s creative and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is the perfect example of how perfunctory quirkiness doesn’t equal legitimate inventiveness. Unfortunately the disorganized script isn’t the only problem Roman Coppola had though it really is the damaged blueprint for an awful outcome.

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Visually A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III has some moments of clarity but ultimately it lacks the quality surrealist feel that it needed in order to successfully deliver its creative intentions. Instead of surreal the film comes off as cartoonish in an intentional way but newcomer cinematographer Nick Beal lacks the individual imprint to make it stylistically gripping. What should have been a chance to deviate from the Wes Anderson connection was just a messy mimicry of a highly distinct style. Because the script is so dependent on deviating fantasy sequences it’s unfortunate that there aren’t much creative changes based on the visual tone from fantasy and reality. Even the set designs and costumes aren’t exactly at the level of detail needed to distinguish the actual 70s time period (ambiguous most of the way through) though that is mostly saved by the music created by Liam Hayes and Roger Neill. Creatively, from cinematography to production design, the entire film feels like a series of vaguely good ideas that were thrown into a blender in the hopes of a decent concoction. Trying to create a unique feeling in a film without a reliable blueprint with developed script ideas is tackling the impossible and it’s unfortunate that Roman Coppola couldn’t recognize that this idea wasn’t as strong as his debut film CQ. As admirable as bringing a charming skew to the escapism of dreams it really needs an obvious difference from previous experiments and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III just isn’t different enough to be enjoyable. Because the script was a series of jumbled undeveloped ideas it inevitably affected the creative style and ultimately the performances.

There’s a reason Charlie Sheen hasn’t been in movies for many years especially as a lead because he greatly lacks the personable charisma and talent to keep a film balanced on his shoulders. Choosing such a risky choice in a lead for such an undeveloped risky project was just asking for disaster and they basically succeeded. Sheen is barely credible in his scenes of utter self-loathing and self-involvement, which should be his specialty, so when human emotion enters the equation it never gains any minimal traction. A charismatic performance could have saved the core of this movie because the ideas aren’t bad it’s just the questionable execution, but Charlie Sheen was the absolute wrong choice. The combination of unsympathetic protagonist and a messy forceful script has the result of affecting otherwise good actors performances through the entire awkward film. Coppola family cousin Jason Schwartzman, another Wes Anderson regular, attempts to bring a pseudo-Lenny Bruce personality to the screen but his attempts are futile since his presence has no real purpose in the entire film. Another casualty of this filmmaking bomb is the always personable Bill Murray who is wasted more in this film than he was in Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control. Big names from Patricia Arquette to Aubrey Plaza to Mary Elizabeth Winstead are all just props in a film that has about as much point as a series of amateur student films. Again if the script had been checked, re-checked, and then triple checked for relevant coherence then it could very well have been an intriguingly cartoonish and undeniably fun film experience.

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When you make creative connections in Hollywood and have a contributing voice in the writing of particular films you will be held to that previous standard. Roman Coppola has been involved in the writing of the last two Wes Anderson pictures and yet here with his second lead feature he drops the ball on character, plot coherence, and a complimentary distinct visual style. Even when compared to his first feature CQ, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III doesn’t live up to promising expectations. Quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness isn’t charming nor is it at all inventive but instead comes off as lazy and disorganized. Confidence in character and plot should come before relying on oddly fun fantasy sequences and they should be used to guide the plot instead of interrupting it. Once you sit through this messy, irrelevant, and forceful film you’ll eventually arrive at its incredibly pompous, self-referential ending shot that would be delightfully cute if the film hadn’t been so laborious. All in all A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III wasn’t worth the effort and ultimately becomes a wasted opportunity of talent, time, and money. Hopefully Roman Coppola, who won’t be negatively affected by this at all, will take a critical beating and learn from his mistakes to bring us better efforts in the future because there is potential in his ideas.

Grade: C-

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