This Must Be the Place

Posted November 16, 2012 by in


Total Score

2/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: comedy
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
MPAA Rating: R
Actors: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand
Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: 11/02/2012 (USA - limited release)
Studio: Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Medusa Film, Canal+, Pathe

What We Liked:

interesting character, good comedic performance

What We Disliked:

story takes too long to get going; editing is unconventional
What We Thought

Penn shows comedic talent portraying a rock star who won’t grow up, but the story fails to compel.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Cheyenne (Sean Penn) still puts on his stage make-up, even though his days as a rock star are long since over.  Long, dark bangs hang over a face covered in white powder.  A perpetual frown is dressed in red lipstick.  Black eye-liner and eye-shadow complete the look (the resemblance to The Cure’s Robert Smith is uncanny, and no doubt deliberate).
     Cheyenne gets the phone call:  his father is dying.  Afraid of flying, Cheyenne takes a cruise ship back to America, and arrives too late to see his estranged father one last time.  A close friend of his father tells Cheyenne that he spent his entire life looking for the Nazi officer who tormented him for years before his escape.  His father never found him, but came close.  Cheyenne sets out on a road trip across America to find the aging Nazi, and to find himself as well.
     Much of the film’s humor comes from how out of place Cheyenne looks, no matter where he is.  Imagine the home of two elderly ladies, covered in floral-patterned wallpaper and filled with knitting and embroidery.  And in that home sits this middle-aged man dressed like a twenty-something goth musician, looking ready to go on stage any minute, chatting it up with two suspicious senior citizens over tea.
     Penn, more often a dramatic performer, shows comedic talent in his timing and line delivery, but still takes the role of Cheyenne seriously, emulating the speech patterns and body language of an aged rocker.  Cheyenne responds to queries slowly; years of drug abuse have taken a toll on his mind.  He speaks in a soft, broken voice, and the light in his eyes are dim.  He has a funny tick where he takes a deep breath, and blows his long bangs out of his face.  Cheyenne is morose, strange, but funny for his sheer oddness and unique perspective on life.
     However, This Must Be the Place takes too long to get off the ground.  At first it looks like a rom-com about a quirky former musician playing matchmaker to his “daughter” (Eve Hewson) and a nerdy waiter.  Then an aspiring musician comes in and asks Cheyenne to produce his album.  Neither subplot builds to much, and it isn’t until deep in the second act that we find out what the goal of the film is.  The story lacks direction early on, and has only a tenuous grasp of it once it gets going.
     The editing is occasionally…unconventional.  Cheyenne walks out of a pair of elderly ladies’ living room, and the film fades-in to Cheyenne walking out their front door, presumably only a moment later.  However, a fade-out/fade-in usually means that a more substantial passage of time has elapsed; when a day comes to an end, we fade out, and then fade-in to the next day–night has passed.  There’s further “experimentation” in a scene where Cheyenne chats with a man (Harry Dean Stanton) who may know the location of his father’s tormentor.  The camera jumps at an angle from Cheyenne’s left shoulder to his right and back again between cuts.  Doing so means that sometimes Stanton is looking to the right, and other times to the left.  These kinds of editing choices make the film harder than necessary to read, both in terms of grasping the passage of time, and in understanding the physical orientation of characters in relation to each other.
     The first half of This Must Be the Place has lots of little laughs, and Penn’s performance has merit.  However, the character and the story are mismatched.  Plot is a function of character, but this specific journey is arbitrary instead of specific and meaningful.  Cheyenne is bored and lacks purpose, and simply needs to get out of the house and into the real world.  Hunting down a man who’s near death as it is to avenge a father he wasn’t close to simply fails to compel past the halfway mark.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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