If you surround yourself with greatness, the saying goes, some of it is bound to rub off. Roman Coppola, the director and writer of A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, has been surrounded by greatness all his life. Unfortunately for the son of Francis Ford Coppola, brother of Sofia Coppola and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator, that maxim doesn't seem to apply to films. The more damning alternative is that it doesn't apply to him specifically, but given that Coppola has been a part of some great works (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Lost in Translation, etc.) and that this is only the second feature-length film that he's directed, he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt for the time being.
What's not deserving of your patience is Coppola's follow-up to 2001's CQ. If you can imagine a watered-down combination of Wes Anderson and 1970s Woody Allen, in all his self-absorbed-fantasy-sequence glory, you've got the general idea. Charlie Sheen plays the title character, the nominally successful head of an advertising agency in 1970s Hollywood who enters a deep spiritual funk when his much younger girlfriend Ivana (Kathryn Winnick) leaves him.
I have no real problem with the controversial Sheen relative to any other actor (by that, I mean I don't bring the sordid, public details of his life with me when I'm watching a movie starring him), but selecting him as the lead for this material was enough of a misstep by itself to pretty much sink Coppola's project. We're meant to sympathize with Charlie Swan in an especially Wes-Anderson-we-are-all-a-little-broken kind of way, but Sheen, who is capable enough as an actor, has never really been able to conjure up sympathetic feelings from his audience in any role he's played. Even as Bud Fox in Wall Street, he's not that guy.
It's not all Sheen's fault, though. The circumstances of Swan's breakup with Ivana aren't worthy of our compassion. The middle-aged, chain-smoking Swan won't get rid of his drawerful of Polaroids that document his past sexual conquests. Ivana complains that she doesn't want to be another girl in his drawer, and when that doesn't prompt any action from him, she walks. Adult males with stunted maturity have been used to great effect by Coppola's pal Anderson over the years, but only because those characters' puerile behavior is outrageously funny and never in stasis.
Other than with his sister Izzy (Patricia Arquette), Charlie Swan is obliviously and reprehensibly selfish from start to finish of the film that bears his name. He repeatedly blows off his only real friend Kirby Star (Jason Schwartzman) and loyal secretary Marnie (Aubrey Plaza) and ignores the advice of his hardworking financial manager Saul (Bill Murray). Worse yet, he never seems to learn anything when he disappoints the people who stick by him for some inexplicable reason
About the only good that comes out of all these one-sided relationships is a memorable daydream where Sheen, Schwartzman and Murray -- dressed as cowboys like only people from the 1970s could be -- are on the run from an all-female tribe of Indians. Other than that sequence, Coppola treats us to a character intended to win our begrudging support (if not admiration), but who is completely unable to do so because of the actor who plays him and the script with which he as to work.