A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
The phenomenon that first came to light with the fourty-eight frames per second screenings of The Hobbit is one that also plagues this picture; the issue being that the footage is too real to relate too, too clear for the emotional claws of cinema to get a proper grasp, too reminiscent of a soap-opera to effectively convey its sense of style. The Why behind this troubling event is of course drastically different here than it was for The Hobbit; there it was an issue born from too much free time and spare money, here it is the opposite. Despite its arguably more all-star cast Roman Coppola’s second feature (not, as I had assumed, his directorial debut) comes across not only as cheap, but as a cheap imitation of his cinematic forebears; of those men he doesn’t just admire but has actively worked with, men like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze. Fortunately then these are two great sets of footsteps to follow in, especially if the gait you take is a rather wonky one.
Known as much now for the writing he has done with Wes Anderson as for his famous family of film elites Roman Coppola is a man that I thought I was a fan of; I thought that I liked the more mature sensibility that he brought to the films he made with Wes but now I’m not so sure that those traits really came from him, because they can only barely be seen here. Instead Roman focuses on attempting to recreate the whimsical setting, the magically minute scenery and surrounds that Wes has trademarked but the visuals lack all of the polish and stylization that the bigger budget and more detail-oriented eye of Anderson bring, so the scenes end up looking more amateur than they do antiquated. In its own little way the film does embrace this; by say, having Jason Schwartzman bang on a set-rock and allowing the hollow metallic thud it makes to be heard. This type of touch has a drastically different effect than the more imaginative work of Wes, it’s not sweet or magical, its gaudy and ostentatious like the character at its center.
If there is anyone besides big film buffs that see this film it will be because the lead is Charlie Sheen and the story so similar to that of his own (There is even a scene spoken entirely in Spanish, presumably as a nod to his heritage). Sheen plays a selfish, oversexed psychopath with women issues; namely that one dared break up with him. The tale told here is an intriguing mixture of his own life and that of the quintessential Roman Coppola male; the lauded but lost sort whose whimsy and whining populated The Darjeeling Limited. The twist comes from the fact that his constant desires spawn a constant series of fantasies inside his mind, daydreams that seem as real to him as reality itself. As the film is a self-proclaimed ‘glimpse inside the mind of’ we follow his perspective from the non to the fictional and back again with barely a smash-cut to show us the line between delusion and disillusionment.
This is, in theory, a fine structure for what would otherwise be far too straight a story for this school of film-making (That it is set in what appears to be seventies LA, rather than the present, is the only perceptual adventure taking place here. There is no high-concept setting.) but I have a number of issues with its execution. Again, the way that the film is shot: with what appears to be a small camera and flat, blanket lighting leaves far too little to the imagination; most frames of this film aren’t fine art, they’re cell-phone photos and so the fantasies fail to really take you away with them. Secondly the film treats sex like Django Unchained does race; skewering the sexist, sex based thoughts of its leads to an extent but often veering over the line of satire and into straight exploitation with the way the female characters are treated.
So it doesn’t look great, the story isn’t for me, I’m not a fan of the star but I did manage to make it to the end of this movie and I’m glad that I did. Not only because it closes out with a cool Roman Coppola procession shot before then taking that trope to its ultimate end; the cast breaking character and calling out the films credits but because this moment is one of many where the movie works in that silly but insightful was that Wes’s do, unfortunately these hits are just surrounded by many more misses. Roman has made such a name for himself (bigger than the one he was born with) and has already established such a oeuvre that it is hard to treat this like the work of a newcomer, even though in many ways it really is. If this were his debut, if it took the place of Bottle Rocket or Human Nature in film history then maybe it would have worked better and hold a dearer place than it does now. But alas, like its star Charles Swan is strangely fascinating but also sad to watch because we know the stock from which it came and have seen the same do such better things in the past.