A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)
Written & Directed by Roman Coppola
Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen) is a successful graphic designer who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Ivana. The aftermath has him ending up in the hospital being told to watch his stress. His sister, best friend, and business manager (played by Patricia Arquette, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray respectively) come to his aid, assuaging his ego while he loses himself in flights of fancy. Charles finds his emotions ping-ponging between loving and hating Ivana, unable to make a clean break with her. He begins to suspect she is seeing someone else and gets into a series of unfunny predicaments to discover the truth.
For a first picture, A24 really let loose a doozy. In their defense, this was only a distribution deal which they shared with FilmBuff. Production was done by American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s film house. What the movie does establish regarding A24’s reputation is a stance on choosing creator-driven projects which they maintain to this day.
Roman Coppola has only directed two films, this and CQ. I was a big fan of CQ when it came out in 2001. I saw it in the theater twice and owned it on DVD for awhile. I haven’t seen it in many years and wonder how well it would hold up with a 1,000 plus more films under my belt and greater understanding of filmmaking. Coppola is in the same vein of movie making as Wes Anderson, though arguably much less talented as that director. Coppola has actually co-written some Anderson films (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, Isle of Dogs) to varying degrees of success. I think Anderson has a stronger sense of character and plot structure than Coppola, while Coppola can get lost in the aesthetics of his pictures and lose a sense of direction.
The character of Charles Swan is one of the most unlikable protagonists I’ve seen in movies in a long while. The film intends to make us sympathize and relate with Swan. He is this graphic design genius whom people continuously tell is a genius, though we see very little of his work. The film has a climax that wants us to be amazed at album cover Swan comes up with, but it looks stupid and is way too simple. And that is a continual problem with the entire picture. People TELL us how they feel or about Swan, but the movie never SHOWS us this. At one point, we have a character whose manuscript has been rejected in tears and then saying “I’m just so disappointed.” Later a character says “I am so happy.” This is god awful writing.
The actual impression you will walk away with is that Charles Swan is a narcissistic asshole. Because of the way the film is edited it is implied, at least from what I understand, that Swan cheats on Ivana with an employee at his agency. Because of the poor writing, it’s never directly clarified, unlike when another character straight up say what emotion they are feeling. Swan’s flights of fancy continuously include naked or near naked women. Ivana leaves because she finds a drawer where Swan keeps nude Polaroids of past conquests, and he thinks she should just chill about that because he is with her. Her petition for him to throw them out is countered by an awful excuse that Swan is always in love with every woman he’s been with. I honestly felt like I was watching a film from a Weinstein type, this idea that holding a woman up as a sex object is a form of flattery.
We never get any sense of who Ivana is as a character or why she and Swan were so in love. When the crux of your movie is the relationship between two characters and you devote all of a single montage to fleshing that out, you will have problems getting your audience to buy in. Swan’s dream sequences don’t add to the relationship either. They appear to be intended as a witty commentary on the “war between the sexes” but don’t go anywhere, including non-relevant dialogue, and seem to be abandoned partly through the film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead appears as a character I am guessing was supposed to be Ivana’s best friend or sister, but who only appears in the dream sequences. I am willing to bet (because the film is strangely 84 minutes) she had scenes in the real world that were cut out in the editing room. Coppola probably released what a flimsy movie he had and tried to save it in editing which rarely works out. The ending of the film is so ludicrous and feels like what a writer/director does when they don’t know how to end a lousy story. It acts as though it has an air of intelligence while just feeling dumb. Thankfully A24 would go on to higher heights than this starting flop.