The first English language film by Il Divo director Paulo Sorrentino is a defiantly strange road movie built around a defiantly strange performance by Sean Penn. He plays Cheyenne, a formerly successful 80s Goth rocker who looks like Robert Smith of The Cure but sounds like Truman Capote. Living in comfortable retirement in a mansion in Dublin, Cheyenne thinks he’s depressed but his wife Jane (Frances McDormand) tells him he’s more likely just bored as his days consist of wandering aimlessly around shopping centres and graveyards wheeling a shopping basket like a decrepit old lady.
This Must Be The Place starts off as a fitfully amusing and slightly irritatingly and excessively “quirky indie comedy with a genuinely funny turn from Penn as the addled outcast. The famously intense actor isn’t known for comedies but it’s worth remembering he made his feature debut as the quintessential comedy-stoner Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. About a quarter of the way through the film events take an unexpected lunge into darker territory as Cheyenne is forced to return to the States after 20 years to attend his father’s funeral.
It’s there it’s revealed that he is Jewish as he meets family friend Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch) who tells him that his father died before completing his lifelong quest to hunt down and exact revenge upon on the Nazi officer who tortured and humiliated him. Despite being perhaps the least-qualified person in the world for the job Cheyenne decides to hunt down the Nazi, who is rumoured to be living in America, and finish his father’s work.
The fact that Cheyenne has been out of the States for two decades, and the fact that he’s such an oddball allow Sorrentino to explore an outsider’s view of America. As the mumbling weirdo shambles his way from New York to New Mexico he encounters all kinds of American archetypes and stereotypes, including an encounter with Harry Dean Stanton who since Paris, Texas is now a symbol of remote American strangeness. Similarly he captures the landscapes in a familiarly cinematic fashion that shows he’s always enjoyed and respected American movies.
The film also seems to be lampooning the self-obsession and self-indulgence of the last couple of generations as Cheyenne the man-child is finally forced to grow-up after being confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust, which he admits at the beginning he is only aware of “in a general sort of way. Sorrentino explains in one of the many interviews included in the extras that the film is basically a coming-of-age story about a 50 year-old boy.
Ultimately, This Must Be The Place feels like a small, odd film elevated by the presence of a powerhouse A-list actor in the lead role. It’s also elevated by its retro musical score which is provided by former Talking Heads front-man David Byrne (who also makes a brilliantly bizarre cameo as himself) and alt-country star Will Oldham. It all adds up to an experience which often feels frustratingly and unnecessarily twee, especially when the story becomes interesting enough that it doesn’t need to rely on self-consciously strange quirks. But it’s easy to look past these flaws and get caught up in Cheyenne’s journey and by the end you’ll be glad you did.
Overall Verdict: This Must Be The Place is much like it’s protagonist in that it’s self-consciously weird and quirky and occasionally extremely annoying but still somehow likeable and interesting.
Interviews with cast & crew (Paolo Sorrention, Eve Hewson, David Byrne, Kerry Condon, Stefania Cella, Judd Hirsch)
Exclusive Viral Clips
Extended David Byrne Music Sequence.
Reviewer: Adam Pidgeon