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A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

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Critics' Reviews

Our critic says...
Sheen's 'Swan' has an ugly side
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

Charlie Sheen playing a womanizing drug-abusing made-in-L.A. jerk seems like typecasting, and not even particularly novel typecasting at that. However, "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is more than a nudge-nudge wink-wink exercise in laying bare the sins of show biz kids. Written and directed by Roman Coppola, whose last feature was the evocative inside-'60s-moviemaking picture "CQ," and who frequently works with stylish master of whimsical melancholy Wes Anderson, "Glimpse" means to wed an examination of questionable human behavior to a fizzy pop-art ethos, and possibly to examine the connection between the two. It doesn't quite make it, alas.

In a fantasy examination sequence that opens the film, an interlocutor asks Sheen's Swan if he has a "hard time dealing with reality?" "Always," responds the title character, as an animated collage that calls to mind the work of pop artist James Rosenquist erupts from his head. Swan, an innovative graphic designer, is agitated on account of the loss of his girlfriend, Ivana, who was understandably put out at discovering a drawerful of nude Polaroids of other women in the house they shared. His reaction comes to one climax when his vintage car, featuring a graphic of fried eggs on one side and of bacon on the other, winds up in a swimming pool. Consultations with his empathetic sister (Patricia Arquette) and goofball horndog rock star best friend (Jason Schwartzman) provide him with little solace, let alone a solution to his woes. He must have Ivana (Katheryn Winnick) back, or at least know who she's dumped him for, because she had to dump him for someone.
 
To be honest, it took me a little while to figure out that this movie was actually set in the 1970s. Initially, I just thought all of its characters were really into retro styles and clothes. That's not so far-fetched in the kind of L.A. story this represents, although "Glimpse" takes one or two leaves from famed L.A. skeptic Woody Allen's book, at times recalling the trenchant fourth-wall-breaking alienation of "Stardust Memories."

We're meant to be ironically amused by the misogynist attitudes expressed by Sheen and Schwartzman's characters, and Coppola's attitude toward them is clearly not one of approval, but by the same token these attitudes are still so prevalent of the time, but they're really not that different from what we hear in movies today. In fact, Swan's male-chauvinist-piggishness is, in the final analysis, really pretty mild when compared to something like any of the "Hangover" pictures, so the point is really lost. Indeed, while the movie has a loose, amiable, made-with-friends-and-family feel to it, it also has a lack of drive and a weird sense of disconnection to it. It's summed up in a fantasy sequence in which Swan and Ivana are reunited and sing the Brazilian pop classic "Waters of March" in the original Portuguese, and slaughter it. I'm not sure that's quite what Oscar Wilde had in mind when he pronounced that each man kills the thing he loves.

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Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

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