My favorite scene in this movie involves Charles Swan (Charlie Sheen, playing both his current cocaine self and what would most likely have been his mid-1970s Quaalude self, tricked out with a Proustian surname just to jazz it up a little) eating caviar. Eating may be the wrong word, though. Let's call it gorging, instead -- mouth first into the tin, spilling it on himself, high and cruising around Los Angeles. It's Sheen at his Sheeniest, momentarily starring in his own I'm Still Here mockumentary, plus or minus a porn-pal.
Based on the jeans some of the women in the film are wearing -- the high-waisted kind I haven't witnessed on human bodies since watching Eight Is Enough during childhood -- the era is that '70s moment of excess and more excess. Swan is a successful Los Angeles graphic designer with famous friends (Jason Schwartzman as a Lenny Bruce-style stand-up comic/pop star) and a messy history with chicks, man. He's a both-ends candle burner and his interior life is part trippy existential comedy (the kind they used to make in 1969 starring Anthony Newley with titles like Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?) and part All That Jazz-like descent into deep burnout territory.
Thanks to high-production-design-minded director Roman Coppola, Swan's world is a stylized, hermetically sealed creation. He's a libertine in a terrarium, as though Los Angeles were a leafy Laurel Canyon cocoon where nothing truly bad can happen, even to a man spiraling out of control. His ex (Patricia Arquette, in rad Rhoda Morgenstern head wraps) is constantly exasperated by his behavior, his other ex (Katheryn Winnick) just wants him to go away and his creative assistant (Aubrey Plaza) needs him to get back to work. In his mind, they're all ball-busters, harshing his buzz, but at worst they're merely disapproving and, frequently, coddling caretakers. But the film's on the side of the creative genius, so when redemption floats Swan's way on a wave of pot smoke, with nothing risked or hard-won, it feels like popping a balloon that was already under-inflated.
Still, though, I do like that caviar moment. It's a nearly perfect apology for the existence of Sheen2013, packaging him as a man out of time, born too late to be the kind of louche, decadent figure he'd easily get away with being 40 years ago. Re-contextualized like that, he's much easier to understand, even a little cuddly. You still don't want to marry him or anything, but you get me.