Film review: This Must Be the Place

This Must Be the Place
Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Medusa Film

STARRING Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Harry Dean Stanton, Eve Hewson
WRITTEN BY Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello
PRODUCED BY Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano, Andrea Occhipinti
DIRECTED BY Paolo Sorrentino

SHOT BY Luca Bigazzi
EDITED BY Cristiano Travaglioli
MUSIC BY David Byrne
DISTRIBUTED BY The Weinstein Company

Screened 2012-11-07

“Icon See Clearly”

Sean Penn plays former rock star Cheyenne, who once wrote “depressing songs for depressed kids” and whose look is inspired, clearly, by The Cure’s Robert Smith (or was it Robert Blake?). Cheyenne is now fabulously wealthy and living in Dublin with his anachronistically mature firefighting wife Jane (Frances McDormand) and their pretty goth daughter played by Irish actress Eve Hewson, who is actually Bono’s daughter. Cheyenne is a delicate wisp of a man, fey to a T, as sensitive and shrieky as a 14 year old girl colored with the cynicism of what William Holden once referred to as ‘middle age,’ and Cheyenne’s disposition itself is the foundation of the film; Cheyenne is long, long, long overdue for his coming-of-age metamorphosis and it takes two hours of your time for him to get there. You’ll find this trip worthwhile if you are taken with quirk and David Byrne, the latter stipulation being non-negotiable since Byrne composed original music for the film, performs and cameos, and, as you’re likely aware, provided the origin of the film’s title. (And I thought it would be inspirational to listen to Stop Making Sense while I organize my thoughts on the film, though it’s proving to be very distracting and I was never overly enthusiastic about Talking Heads in the first place).

This Must Be the Place does summarily feature about as much insight as a pop tune and this would not be a problem if the product were at least thirty minutes shorter and/or considerably more brisk. Just a few days ago I was mulling over David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and complimented the director for his expertise with comedy, most notably in the way comedy is reliant on energy and momentum – two qualities that are very much absent from This Must Be the Place, a story about a man whose momentum has ebbed to near nothing and who struggles to find himself. Cheyenne’s feeling of ‘lost’ is stretched across the American landscape as he endeavors on a road trip to track down a slippery Nazi war criminal who had given hell to Cheyenne’s recently deceased father (or is it because Cheyenne has nothing better to do?); it is felt in the film’s images which are all meant to evoke absurdism in one way or another since they focus on the banal, and why else would a person focus on the banal unless he was spaced out, confused, ruminative? (not inherently a riveting forum for comedy). On the way Cheyenne is joined by a seasoned Nazi hunting superjew played by the welcome Judd Hirsch (where have you been?)… mumble mumble grumble and they find the guy and don’t kill him and Cheyenne kinda grows up the end.

I only know director Paolo Sorrentino from 2008’s Il Divo, a rather fluffy political gangster film which is as self-satisfied and as dense with montage as Sorrentino’s present effort. Sean Penn headed 2008’s Cannes jury where Il Divo would win the Grand Prix, and Penn would later contact Sorrentino requesting involvement in whatever future project the director wished. Sorry to say but this is the least interesting film in Cannes since Taking Woodstock and, god-willing, Sorrentino’s lowest point; he’s the estranged Coen brother (an opinion bolstered by the presence of McDormand) who got the recessive genes. Now (smile), with all that said I will note the successes of This Must Be the Place. Even if the film does not satisfy it justifies its existence by Penn’s performance alone, which may not end up as a popular favorite but does feel somewhat… archetypal, actually… and I like Penn more by the year, so why not sit back and enjoy? Two: Variety’s Jay Weissberg noted that this film is a rare instance where a foreign director gets the American cliches and cadences right, and I would not mention this if I didn’t think it were important – maybe the most important element of the production, especially impressive considering how much of America is covered during Cheyenne’s stupid trip. Three: … actually, it only has two positive qualities. Sorry. It competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2011, and I apologize if you’re vomiting all over the room due to the number of times I invoke Cannes (it’s just a phase).

written by David Ashley