Starring Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray. Written and directed by Roman Coppola. STC. 86 min. Opens Feb. 15.
It takes some doing to out-crazy Charlie Sheen, but the wildest moments of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III make even the warlock king of “#winning!” seem restrained. Even more surprising is how much affection this wilfully eccentric period comedy by Roman Coppola generates for a star whose penchant for public buffoonery and professional flameouts ought to make him entirely exasperating.
It’s easy to forget that Sheen was a capable actor before his years as a sitcom Lothario caused his talents to coarsen and calcify. And despite having to wear outfits that could have been acquired at Bob Guccione’s estate sale, he evinces an engaging hangdog charm as Charles Swan, a graphic designer who goes into a tailspin of self-analysis and self-pity after his breakup with girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick).
Set in a lavishly stylized version of mid-’70s L.A., Coppola’s film expresses little regard for naturalism. When our narcissistic hero isn’t muddling his way through his professional and personal crises, his inner life is revealed via fantasy sequences that evoke Federico Fellini, or at least Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky at their most Fellini-esque. Among the most outlandish is an Oscar-ceremony parody in which Swan humbly accepts the “Best Bullshit” award from the “Academy of Sexy Women.” Another fantasy segment is a goofy western spoof whose racist and sexist excesses are partially redeemed by the presence of Bill Murray in a cowboy hat and Jason Schwartzman in a Dan Fogelberg beard.
The appearance of those actors among Swan’s retinue is one of many echoes of Coppola’s collaborations with Wes Anderson. Though too erratic and indulgent to match Moonrise Kingdom or even Coppola’s underrated 2001 debut, CQ, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III succeeds as a breezy, big-hearted, and often imaginative lark. And even if this big-screen foray is hardly the public mea culpa his many haters might demand, Sheen still proves he can be something other than a purveyor (and subject) of punchlines.