The world of film is as wide as it is wonderful. Sometimes movies can slip through the cracks or deserve another view. With that in mind, join the club as we dig deep into some of our favorite flicks and lesser-known treasures…
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Writer/Director: Roman Coppola
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Katheryn Winnick, Jason Schwartzman, Patricia Arquette, and Bill Murray
Let’s open up the PressureLife Film Club with some lighter fare; a comedy, a Charlie Sheen comedy at that. Hold on, hold on, stay with us…
One has a sense of where a Charlie Sheen vehicle is going; usually to a strip club and then to pick up some more blow. And yes, that is the sort of character Sheen portrays as the titular Charles Swan III, but as Sheen has been viewed as circling the drain in recent years, here, Swan wallows in the same decadence and depravity all the while swimming toward the surface in a reluctantly lovable underdog. Despite a Coppola attached behind the camera, much of this film and its sensibilities belie an affair with that of Wes Anderson.
Ostensibly a break-up film, its rout subject matter breaks from reality nearly instantly with seventies era imagery materializing out of Charles Swan’s (Sheen) head as direct visual representations of his wandering mind all stylized from the real life Swan who designed much of the 1980’s advertising imagery that still remains rooted in the unconsciousness of the American consumer. The film often breaks into hyper-imposed alternate reality reenactments and Freudian what-ifs, inspired as much by Swan’s unbridled creativity as his misanthropic love loss. This ever-present and yet understated hyperreality of the film provides a singularly unique work that is surprisingly engaging.
Effectively spinning two plates, Swan is reeling from a recent break-up with, Ivana (Katheryn Winnick), while failing to reach his artistic commitments to his sister/author (Patricia Arquette) and his friend/comedian Kirby (Jason Schwartzman). Swan’s isolation is paralleled in his hang-dog manager, Saul, played by Bill Murray, whose wife has just left him. The quiet, small failings of marital life are gut-wrenching and tragic via Murray while still retaining that watery-eyed charm. That is half the balance of A Glimpse Inside… while at times, the film reaches for bombastic daydream sequences replete with spies, cowboys and Indians and tap dance numbers, the raw, numb abject loss that both Sheen and Murray affect tether the project to the cold gray meaningless mornings appropriate for such lovesick subject matter.
This is a film that can have it both ways and from which it excels. This, epitomized when Sheen daydreams rising from his own grave to tap dance with all of his former lovers that came to mourn/celebrate his passing. A similarly fantastical aside sees Murray enter as a John Wayne archetype, and later, a senior Bond-like agent who guides Sheen and Schwartzman away from a squad of killer ex-girlfriends. All that said of flights of fancy, the movie sticks to its through-line of that of an artist who has a better relationship with his ideas and creations than he does with the people around him. While this instantly merits a door into the whimsical musings of an artist, so too exposed is the emotional volatility and self-destruction that often come hand in hand. These boyhood freewheeling daydreams are a gilded veneer hiding a failed and stunted adulthood, crippled by an inability to match stay in reality long enough to facilitate any relationships not governed by his own whims.
As Swan’s depression over losing Ivana grows, his relationships with his friends and co-workers deteriorates, hitting bottom with the death of his pet toucan; representing the last effective relationship he had been able to maintain. While the opening acts lean on the fantasized asides for the bulk of the film’s comedy, the third acts allows Sheen to truly own the film. Consumed by his obsession and wandering mind, Swan cannot get Ivana from his mind, going so far as to rig his ex’s bags with surveillance equipment before her big ski trip. Naturally, since this is set in the seventies, he is left with a giant suitcase, giant headphones, and a giant metal antenna in order to pick up the signal. What follows is a tuxedoed Sheen films at the famous New York bar, Musso and Frank’s, pounding rounds of Brandy Alexanders before several scenes of broad and physical comedy that never veers into Chuck Lorre territory before grounding the entire project into a beautifully delivered and expertly weighted curtain call. Swan’s impassioned and final plea to his former lover at the film’s culmination is a surprisingly tragic soliloquy considering its deliverer. Well written without ever veering toward maudlin, Sheen captivating performance relies on a gutted vulnerability we don’t often see from the tiger blooded winner.
Further going against the grain of its own genre, obsession and failure to allow for space is not rewarded in the end like all the world’s John Cusacks and Andrew Lincolns. Not letting things go and refusing to move on are not character traits to be celebrated in A Glimpse Inside… but are rather presented as a cautionary tale. Things don’t always work out, and, in the reality of the narrative, Swan was a womanizer who cheated on Ivana multiple times. What he does gain is closure and a measure of acceptance with the two sharing one final daydream of just how he thought it would end between them, naturally, with a song and dance.
As effective as the script and acting was, perhaps the strongest element was the music, composed solely by Liam Hayes. The effect offered a quirky identity to the proceedings that never got in the way. This was a film that more movies should try to be like, not in story or characters, but in the experimentation it takes in its storytelling; fun and a refreshing throughout. The closing/mid-credit scene captures the photo shoot that Swan holds for the cover to his friend’s comedy album which is a jubilant pastiche inspired from the primary themes of the film. The closing shot sees Schwartzman ride a horse along a giant kitchen sink on a beach presented in a forced perspective camera trick, effectively miniaturizing the comedian through practical effects in real-time. The camera then pulls out further as actors break character as well as the fourth wall to introduce themselves to the audience in lieu of scrolling text credits. Even composer, Liam Hayes, and director, Roman Coppola, are on hand to close out the wrap-party like atmosphere.
Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen): “How can you be so sweet to the toothbrushes and such a bitch to me?”
“Why can’t you just trust that I love you?”
“I’ll meet someone and they won’t be you, and I’ll fall in love with her and I’ll have kids and a family and I won’t love you like this anymore. And I’ll miss it and I’ll miss you. I can’t bear to not love you, for it to really be totally over between us. And then much later I’ll see you again and you’ll have grown older and I’ll be older and I won’t even care. You’ll just be a wrinkly old lady with gray hair and I won’t even care anymore. I don’t want to not love you.”
Swan “You know, I had a much different ending for us.
Ivana (Katheryn Winnick): “I’m sure you did.”
Swan: “I would be in a tux, like this. A spotlight would come on and you would enter stage right in a sparkling gown…”
Swan: “The bullets won’t fit. Why won’t the bullets fit? ”
Kirby (Jason Schwartzman): Is the gun too big?”