Wes Anderson’s delightful “Moonrise Kingdom” became the indie smash of 2012 thanks to its blend of top-notch talent, clever writing and irresistible charm – a seemingly simple combination but a surprising rarity in Hollywood’s current landscape. It’s no wonder that it nabbed a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, an honor that Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola share.
One would naturally expect great things from a frequent collaborator of Anderson’s – one with ties to previous Oscar-winners like father Francis Ford and sister Sofia, no less. Alas, “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” has its fair share of inventive moments but ultimately fails to register as anything more than a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas.
Catchphrase generator and sometimes actor Charlie Sheen plays the similarly named Charles Swan III, whose girlfriend Ivanna (Katheryn Winnick) dumps him in the film’s first few minutes upon discovering dozens of nude photos featuring his many ex-lovers. The rest of the movie is essentially spent pandering on about Charles’ incurable loneliness and repeated sidetracks into his mind; envisioning his demise at Ivanna’s hand in a variety of outrageous scenarios.
While sporadic and heavily objectifying women, these fantasy sequences are often the most inspired moments of “Charles Swan III;” evoking the dreamlike wonder and deadpan humor prevalent in Anderson’s unconventional catalogue of films. Whether playing cowboys and Indians or covert spies and vagabonds, Coppola finally gives his cast some breathing room in these brisk gags and sets them loose from the otherwise tiresome script.
Unfortunately, Charles’ fits of fantasy are also what make this film so problematic. Although we spend nearly an hour and a half with the character, we hardly ever understand his motivations or even sympathize with him in the slightest. In fact, Charles just becomes an increasingly despicable protagonist as the film progresses. Drowning himself in booze and broads, it quickly becomes difficult to distinguish the character from the actor playing him. Much like Mel Gibson’s role as a deranged father in “The Beaver,” it’s hard to see past Charles’ toxic demeanor when it so heavily mirrors the facets of Sheen we’ve seen depicted in the press.
On the contrary, the film features a slew of notable supporting turns from Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, along with indie darlings such as Aubrey Plaza (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Smashed”). Unfortunately, none of them receive an adequate amount of screen time to fully digest their performances – particularly in the case of Schwartzman and Murray, who easily could have lifted the film from “mediocre” to “watchable” had they been given more substantial material to work with.
All in all, “Charles Swan III” tries to emulate so many genres and impart so many concepts that it all never quite meshes together. Coppola does not seem confident enough in his writing abilities or on-screen talent to ever take a step back and quit bombarding his audience with tedious diversions. While desperately trying to make a quirky, oddball flick that will resonate with the hipster set, he essentially loses all sense of focus and in turn, the movie suffers.
It takes a lot more than a pet toucan and bacon-bedecked automobile to make a fun film, Mr. Coppola. A likable leading man also wouldn’t hurt.