Well, if Sean Penn is looking for the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" nostalgia shop, I would have to say that he most definately found it, because as a satire on the glamorous style of old rockers, this film is all but too much of a success, or at least it would be if it wasn't for the fact that this film keeps reminding you that it's not too serious of a "drama". Now, I'm not saying that this film is strange, but it's directed by an Italian, made it to the Cannes Film Festival, and is about Sean Penn as an effeminate goth rock star hunting down a Nazi refugee. Okay, maybe the film isn't quite as crazy as it sounds in broad concept, but make no mistake, this film earns its being named after a Talking Heads song, as it is, like Talking Heads, weird and entertaining, only, unlike Talking Heads, competence is actually consistent in the making of this film (I like Talking Heads just fine, but seriously, thank goodness David Byrne's a reasonably good song writer, because they didn't really have much skill when it came to instrumentality). Shoot, from that description, this film sounds less like a Talking Heads song and more like an improved sequel to, well, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", but either way, what I'm getting at is that you shouldn't go into this film expecting the highly anticipated follow-up to the behemoth masterpiece that is "Almost Famous" just because it's about a rock star and features Frances McDormand. Speaking of which, I must say that it's good to see good ol' Mrs. Joel Coen out and about again, but really, she's been getting so much recent work all of a sudden that I kind of forgot that she was ever missing, so I guess the coolest thing to see with this film is, of course, Sean Penn looking like the ultimate goth rock star satire, even if he does talk so low that you can't hardly hear him. Everyone... who actually keeps up with Italian cinema is going on and on about how this is Paolo Sorrentino's first English-language film, when really, for all we know, Penn is speaking fluent Italian (Hey, Italians can rock, too, I guess), but hey, at least you can gather out of Penn's performance quite a bit of charisma to compliment the film's own charm. Still, regardless of this film's charm, mediocre instrumentality and improvable vocals-I mean, dialogue that's kind of hard to hear (Sorry, I've still got Talking Heads on the brain) is the least of this film's issues.
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