This Must Be The Place Reviews
As Cheyenne's journey progresses it becomes more strange, indulging in quirkiness at the cost of story and somewhat isolating itself from the viewer. Tonally the film is inconsistent, with moments of comedy turning into those of drama in a jarring fashion. Despite its problems the film occasionally reaches the level of intrigue it strives for and Penn's Gothic performance is oddly endearing if a little tiresome.
Cheyenne is a washed up musician who has been out of the game for 20 years but is still famous and recognizable by most. He's kinda hard to not be noticed with his appearance. He has kinda checked out on life too so when the news of his fathers passing comes, who he hasn't seen or spoken to in 30 years, he takes the opportunity to leave Dublin and travel to find his fathers Nazi tormenter.
The movie is one of the better independent films I have seen in a while. I really loved the cast. I enjoyed the music too. It really is one of those films that are only going to be loved by some and hated by others. It takes a certain taste to enjoy this strange yet intriguing story.
I enjoyed the road trip bits. Nice scenery and interesting characters. Sean Penn's Cheyenne also grows on you, though initially I wondered if he was meant to be mentally challenged. This is the kind of movie that works better if you just go with it and not try and think if it makes sense, because it kind of doesn't. As a story, it's kind of all over the place, and can't even get my head around the nazi part, but the interesting characters and laid back pace save this.
With "Il Divo" (winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2008) and now his follow-up, the English-language "This Must be the Place," starring Sean Penn in a performance somewhat inspired by Ozzy Osbourne, you can feel Sorrentino's fearless commitment to his art. I love his single-minded devotion to his art, but I don't think his art is very good.
Sorrentino's work is very high-concept. It sounds good when it's described, but the final product is missing something. As is the case with any high-concept film, the first 30 minutes of "This Must be the Place" are exhilarating, while the viewer is absorbing the concept. But after about 45 minutes, a viewer needs more than a concept.
That's the big difference between shorts and feature films, I'd say. Shorts can exist at the concept level; features must go beyond that. It's like going on a date with someone very good-looking. The first 30 minutes are fantastic because you're still absorbing the beauty. After 30 minutes, your focus shifts to what he or she is saying -- and most of the time you're let down. In most cases, beauty is not enough to carry a 90-minute experience. Neither is concept.
Sorrentino's actors are not so much playing characters as delivering concepts. They're vehicles for the filmmaker's ideas -- sort of hollow. After 30 minutes, the audience needs to feel the insides of the characters to stay interested in them. Sorrentino doesn't go to this level. That's why so far he's not become a great artist for the feature-film medium.
Sean Penn here plays a very famous, wealthy, and quirky American rock star, similar in some ways to Ozzy Osbourne. We meet him when he's in retirement, living in a gigantic home with his wife (Frances McDormand) in a remote area of either England or Ireland. He walks around his little town at a glacial pace pulling a shopping cart behind him, like a 90-year-old woman. He seems to move in slow motion, but his mind is sound. In fact, most of his observations are quite acute.
He is constantly decked out in heavy facial make-up, including bright red lipstick, a cross between a drag queen, a goth rocker, and an old woman playing slot machines in a backwoods casino. Seeing Sean Penn in full-tilt gender-bending regalia is quite disorienting -- and very cool. Yet another fearless performance from Penn.
Initially you think the film is going to be a celebration of this kooky character. But halfway through it completely switches gears. Penn's father dies, and he travels alone to New York for the funeral. By way of flashbacks, we learn about his alienation from his Orthodox Jewish family. We also learn that his father was a Holocaust survivor who spent years trying to hunt down a Nazi official who tormented him.
Penn, completely inexplicably, decides to pick up where his father left off and hunt down the Nazi. He teams up with a veteran Nazi hunter (Judd Hirsch), and this odd couple goes out to heartland America to pursue clues to the Nazi's whereabouts. All the while, the soundtrack immerses you in 1980s New Wave music, such as the Talking Heads song, "This Must be the Place," which inexplicably gives the film its title.
Watching Penn's lovable, drug-addled goth drag queen try to toughen up and become a Nazi hunter is amusing. But it's so ridiculous that the film becomes just shallow absurdism. None of it really means anything because Sorrentino just seems interested in making his characters do oddball things. When writers on long-running TV shows run out of ideas, they often "jump the shark," throwing random shock-value elements into the script.
All through the second half of "This Must be the Place," I felt Sorrentino was jumping the shark, trying to be ever more outlandish and put his characters in weirder situations and cultural contexts. Let's put him in an Orthodox synagogue; isn't that funny? Now let's put him in a small town in the Bible Belt talking to Pentecostal Christians. Now let's watch him interact with rednecks and learn to use a gun!
None of it really made sense after a while. Sorrentino probably would say that he never intended the project to "make sense" in the tradition of narrative cinema. ("Stop Making Sense" was after all the title of the Talking Heads' legendary concert movie, and the Talking Heads are a major touchstone for the film.)
I certainly don't think all films have to make sense in the traditional manner. I'm a big champion of the avant-garde. But "This Must be the Place" doesn't work as either a narrative film or an avant-garde one. Sorrentino clearly is a child of the avant-garde, but he also has some major interest in traditional cinema. It seems like he couldn't decide which direction to go in, and he tried to do both. It doesn't come together.
By the end, the Penn character seemed completely unreal to me, and his quest for Nazis ridiculous. It's a little disturbing that the Holocaust theme would be treated so cavalierly, I would also say.
But it also must be stated that there are many things about the film that are engaging and that do work, especially Penn's engaging performance. If I had read a draft of the screenplay, I would have recommended that Sorrentino scrap the Nazi hunting and focus in on this wacky, interesting character.
What must it be like to be super-rich, super-famous, a complete oddball, a hero to millions, and a laughingstock to other millions? Weave flashbacks into the film of the man's childhood. What must it be like to break away so completely from your family's charted path? Does the Jewish aspect alter anything? Do his elders make him feel like a traitor to the Jewish race? Do they call him a Gentile? This is a film I'd like to see, and I'd like to see Sean Penn star in it.
If Sorrentino's response is that he wants to do something more avant-garde, my reply would be a question: What is your avant-garde idea for the project? It doesn't come through in the screenplay. Once you figure that out, then do another draft pushing more firmly in that direction.
Cheyenne (Sean Penn) was once a 80's glam rocker whose life and career came to a halt when two fans committed suicide after listening to his lyrics. He feels a deep sense of responsibility and guilt for the boys' deaths and struggles to get on with his own life. Years after the event, he hides away in Dublin with his understanding wife (Frances McDormand) but when news comes that his father has recently died, he heads back to America. It's here he finds a purpose and reawakening in himself, in hunting down an old Nazi war criminal that his late father had committed his life to finding.
You just need to take one look at Sean Penn - with his straggly black wig and eye make-up - and you'd be forgiven for expecting this film for being some form of a comedy or parody of Glam Rock. It's not. What it is, is an off-kilter little that drama that possesses some real moments of beauty. It probably comes under the umbrella of an art-house road-movie and despite Penn's appearance, he delivers a heartfelt portrayal of a distant, childlike man, suffering from boredom and an unrelieved depression. It's, once again, a reminder of the unique abilities that Penn has as an actor and ranks as one of his best and bravest performances. It's also the catalyst for a lot of this film's believability. Although his character very rarely cracks a smile, this still elicits some genuine laughs with odd behaviour from an eclectic collection of very off-beat characters. As well as "Talking Heads" frontman David Byrne providing the songs and receiving a welcome and effective cameo appearance into the bargain. Harry Dean Stanton popping in late on, doesn't hamper it in any way either. Essentially, the film is about the journey though. Not just the physical, but the psychological and emotional ones as well and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi adds several welcome scenes of surreal beauty on the travels. However, it takes a sharp right-turn with the Nazi sub-plot that doesn't entirely convince and threatens to undo the whole film. It feels a bit disjointed with what came before but as this film plays with conventions, it still seems strangely acceptable.
A poignant and odd little drama about self discovery. It will not appeal to everyone but if you open your mind and your heart, it might just surprise you.
I liked the pace and how the movie withholds information or details which it reveals later on.
McDormand was cute as Jane, Cheyenne's wife. She's warm and patient and at first sight an interesting match; what does she see in this man? And do we get to see what she sees?
So far, Paolo Sorrentino has shown a remarkable amount of visual poetry in his films so far. With "This Must Be the Place," he attempts something akin to a plot which is definitely a mixed bag due to it involving a hunt for an ancient Nazi which also allows Judd Hirsch to gnaw on scenery to his heart's content. On the other hand, the movie could be said to be in general about people who are out of sync with time, as illustrated by Sean Penn's off-kilter performance as somebody who is ultra-sensitive to the world around him. But none of that allows the movie to escape Wim Wenders' orbit, road movie division, and not just because the very welcome Harry Dean Stanton puts in an appearance, with David Byrne(who also wrote the music for the film) as the random cameo musician.
Sounds kinda awful, and it's easy to feel that way when enduring this quirkfest...but somewhere along the way, I started to go with it, and, against my better judgment, it actually kinda moved me....and I'm not sure why. Penn is actually a bit annoying here, playing a fairly stillborn character who barely moves a muscle and doesn't quite feel connected to anyone. The rest of the cast works miracles to build some chemistry here, with McDormand and Judd Hirsch doing a great job of bringing some genuine excitement to the table.
There's quite a bit of setup here in Ireland, where we watch Penn's character trying to fix up a goth fan with a decidedly unhip mall worker, and I suppose the point of it all is to learn to not judge a book by its cover. The film feels equally random at times when Penn confronts Talking Heads frontman David Byrne (playing himself)...but the genuine terror and emotion in that one scene felt real. For me, this strange and deeply felt film is all about finding your place in life and marking those rare moments where you can make a difference in someone else's. For something so deceptively aimless as this, that's not such a bad premise after all.
Something which irritates many Irish people, myself included, is the fact that "artists" can live here tax free. For this reason we have a disproportionate number of burnt out rock stars and faded thespians living on our island whilst contributing nothing in return. Here Penn plays one such charlatan, a Gavin Friday lookalike rock star who quit twenty years ago when his lyrics influenced two young fans to commit suicide. Returning home to New York for his father's funeral, he becomes embroiled in the hunt for a Nazi war criminal.
Everything about this movie irritated me. Penn is immensely annoying, speaking in a horribly mumbled voice while constantly blowing hair out of his face. Sorrentino seems to have been watching the oeuvre of Wes Anderson on repeat for the last year, every second shot features a character framed dead center staring into a slowly tracking camera. The "quirkiness" of the humour amounts to such comic lines as a rock band being named the "Pieces Of Shit". My oft repeated gripe about unoriginal use of music is given weight here, almost every musical cue will remind you of another film. This must be the twentieth film to feature Arvo Part's "Spiegel Im Spiegel" in the last ten years.
The whole movie feels like a joke whose meaning only those involved in are privy to. Mixing such quirky humour with a holocaust sub-plot feels severely misguided.
If there are two things Italians do well it's food and cinematography. Luca Bigazzi does incredibly good work here and I can honestly say I've never seen Dublin look so good onscreen. It's just a shame my city has to be associated with such pretentious crap.
This film's poster, alone, should firmly tell you that this project isn't likely to make too much sense, but in all honesty, I wasn't really going into this reportedly pretty "Cannes Film Festival entry" entry into the Cannes Film Festival expecting yet another one of the, well, to be frank, stupid, overly bizarre art pieces that stand among the most overrated types of films in the entire film industry, and sure enough, this film isn't as lamely odd as it could have been, yet it's not exactly as down-to-earth as it should have been, all too often getting to be a bit too strange with components to its plot concept and characterization, when not getting to be too disconcertingly offbeat in its story structure. There is pretty much no way the unevenness in this film's script's plotting is accidental, but intentionally messy plotting doesn't always work, as you can definately learn from plenty of avant-garde art films, as well as, to a certain degree, this film, which isn't as all over the place as something like some of the Wim Wenders film it ostensibly wishes it was, but still provides plenty of exposition issues as offshoots to jarring plot happenings, broken up by happenings that we couldn't be yanked away from quickly enough. Okay, maybe that statement is a bit too extreme, as there are plenty of moments in this film, including the gratuitous ones, that entertain just fine, but make no mistake, there are plenty of gratuitous moments in this film, from brief, but bland and recurring moments in which we follow Sean Penn's Cheyenne character doing nothing to the a rather lame soundtrack that is mostly made up of original pieces by David Byrne of Talking Heads (Note that I said, "original", as in introduced through this film, because not even Talking Heads' music is as good as it used to be) and indie singer-songwriter Will Oldham, to plot elements, if not simple filler, that just aren't needed and go all but nowhere. There is a moment which the film presents, through a single tracking shot, Talking Heads performing the titular song, live and pretty much in its entirety, and it's not until the very end of that shot when we find out that it has the slightest bit of relevance to this film's actual story, being a rather superfluous plot note, and from that point on, the film begins to slowly, but surely slip deeper and deeper into excess material, if anything at all in the way of plot, until, after a while, plot focus slips away and leaves the film to dip into the all-out mediocrity that can relatively rarely be found, even in the film's more messily plotted second half, yet plagues this film film as surely as it plagues too many overly avant-garde misfires that the critics, for whatever reason, love to laud at Cannes. Sure, on the whole, the film manages to avoid lapses in focus and, by extension, total mediocrity, a point that, in all fairness, the final product never dips any further beneath, but the film does get carried away in its offbeat artistry, and makes the script's issues all the worse with slowness that is surprisingly not as recurring as I feared, but still present enough to emphasize questionable areas in story structure and dilute full-on genuine emotional punch and engagement value. I'm not asking that this film be a profound dramatic powerhouse, but much in the way of weight to this rather promising story concept goes betrayed by overstylizing in storytelling and much too much dryness in atmosphere, keeping everything lively enough to prevent the slips into mediocrity that claim too many films that are even more overstylized in storytelling and dry in atmosphere, but not proving to be quite as compelling as it could have been and clearly wants to be. Still, if you're looking for one of your better arty Cannes films then, well, you should probably check out the pretty good Terrence Malick films that still could be better, though if you're looking at this film to entertain more than others of its type, then you have indeed found the place, because as slow and actively flawed as this film is, it ultimately stands a decent effort, or at least a handsome visual style piece.
Now, before you cinematography geeks who love to watch overly avant-garde arty films because they are most definately, at the very least, purtty get too excited, Luca Bigazzi doesn't quite deliver on photographic touches that are all that upstandingly remarkable, yet he has moments in which he manipulates lighting and color in a very handsome fashion that compliment something that is consistently impressive about this film's photography: stylishly slick plays with framing and scale in camerawork, which deliver on plenty of unique shots that prove to be quite nifty, especially when really played with during some impressive single tracking shots. Stylistically, this film accels about as much as your usual relatively more plot-driven art pieces, and that's just enough for the final product to stand as, if nothing else, visually appealing, but when it comes to substance, while this film makes its share of storytelling hiccups, both accidental and misguidedly intentional, on the whole, it's easy to gain a reasonably firm grasp on the value of this film's story concept, or at least on the potential for entertainment value within this film that isn't explored quite as thoroughly as it could have been, but still played up quite a bit when focus is found, and brought to life by some colorful writing. The film hits its quiet spells, but is generally quite talkative, and writers Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello make all of this film's goings on worth sitting through with plenty of dialogue that is quite witty, with color and convincingness that earn your attention, particularly when used as a supplement to this film's generally reasonably effective humor, which amusingly livens up a story that, regardless of what I seemingly say, is structured with its own share of liveliness. Now, with all of my talk about how this film gets carried away with its artistically offbeat storytelling, the final product very often finds itself following a better and more traditionalist plotting path, which isn't so consistently backed by resonance that you're all that compelled, even when the film is at its most focused, but still earns your investment, which goes further sustained by Sorrentino's and Contarello's gracing this film's story with plenty of genuinely refreshing notes, as well as characterization that is, at times, a bit too thin, yet generally fairly inspired, marrying near-satirical wit with genuine flesh-out in a mostly rather comfortable way that gives you an adequate understanding of the substance that drives this film and is further powered by what is done right in Sorrentino's directorial storytelling. Moments of overstylizing in atmosphere establishment, as well as even thin spots in the more focused moments in atmosphere establishment, undercut a bit of the genuineness within the dramatic potential that this film, believe it or not, does boast a reasonably heap of, yet there are still moments in which Paolo Sorrentino, as director, finds even aim with depth and hits, gracing the film with all too brief, yet very much present moments of emotional resonance, or even power, that break up plenty of charism, both from ambition and from bonafide genuineness, within Sorrentino's storytelling, which is, at the very least, spirited enough to charm, not so much so that entertainment value and resonance is played up enough to make the final product truly rewarding, but decidedly enough to keep the film more often than not reasonably entertaining, with color that wouldn't be as potent as it is were it not for Sean Penn. While not with so much material that its portrayer could ever be truly masterful on the whole, this film's lead Cheyenne role proves to be something of a challenge, being conceptually rich with angst in atmosphere and softness in speaking tone that could very easily make for a lifelessly dull, if not just plain bad performance, but, come on, we're talking about Sean Penn here, who isn't given the material to be just plain phenomenal, but turns a performance that was worthy of honorable mentions in 2011, when the film first debuted, and still is in 2012, its official release year, being rather colorfully satirical, but still convincing enough as the angsty goth rocker to almost transform into Cheyenne, who is truly defined when Penn finds those somewhat rare, but worthwhile occasions in which he gets to deliver on powerful emotional range, both broadly spirited and engagingly expressive, that go into making a lead who is about as compelling as he is charming. There's quite a bit to compliment in this film, if not praise, yet there was never to be too much power in this film, whose punch goes diluted further by misguided storytelling moments, but still isn't so drained that you can't stick with the final product, a refreshing and charming comedy-drama that delivers on a reasonable bit of entertainment, even though it could have delivered on more than just that.
In conclusion, the film gets to be a bit too strange, though not as much as it gets to be a bit too offbeat in its story structure, to where misguidedly intentional unevenness in plotting comes in to jerk the film around, if not bloat the film with excess material, if not all-out nothingness, thus creating a repetitious formula that, when intensified by slow spells in atmosphere, render the final product kind of blandly underwhelming, though not as much as it could have been, because as flawed as this film, whether by design or not, is, there's still plenty of slickness to visual style to compliment color that is brought to life by cleverness in Paolo Sorrentino's and Umberto Contarello's script, which also delivers on unique story spots, and colorful characterization that is itself brought to life by the dramatically effective moments and reasonably consistent degree of liveliness within Sorrentino's storytelling, and by the charisma and compelling effectiveness of leading man Sean Penn, to make "This Must Be the Place" a charming effort that is worth a go, though not too terribly worth remembering.
2.5/5 - Fair