A cute and funny voyage of discovery which gives a new lease of life to the otherwise moody Sean Penn.
A cute and funny voyage of discovery which gives a
new lease of life to the otherwise moody Sean Penn.
When you see Sean Penn’s name above a movie you are
normally right in assuming that he will be playing either angry, moody or
dour. Either way you don’t go into
a Sean Penn film expecting to laugh.
At least, not on purpose.
But cast your mind back over Penn’s most notable performances and in
amongst them is Fast Times At Ridgemont
High in which he played a slacker stoner to perfection. This Must Be The Place is nothing like
that role but it is a return to comedy, a style of film that, though not
normally associated with him, Penn is just as talented at as his more serious
Cheyenne (Penn) is a reclusive former
rock-star. A lip-stick wearing,
beehive-haired goth in the vein of The Cure’s Robert Smith. Living a seemingly slow life in
Ireland, Cheyenne spends his days wandering through shopping centers, curious
eyes always watching him, trying to set up his friend with an awkward boy and
generally having a quiet laugh with his wife Jane (McDormand). However,
when news reaches him that his father is dying, Cheyenne heads home to New
York. Once there he finds himself
on a voyage of discovery as he traverses America looking for the Nazi War
Criminal who tormented his father during the Holocaust.
The plot of This
Must Be The Place, though heavy-handed and dealing with grand issues, is purely
circumstantial to the characters.
There are times when you wonder what is really going on as Cheyenne
drifts from town to town, borrowing cars, helping people on the way while
quietly gathering information about the mysterious German. It is, at various moments akin to,
ironically, the Sean Penn-directed film Into
The Wild. Cheyenne, like
Alexander Super Trap in Wild, is on a personal voyage of discovery, an
eye-opening odyssey across American where the search for someone results in the
finding of one’s true self. The
key difference is that Cheyenne is the very definition of a man-child. He’s out
of his depth on his quest but soldiers on, determined to achieve what his
father could not.
While the plot
falters, the comedy and warmth of the film are never anything less than
infectious. Cheyenne is a fairly
odd-ball character at the best of times, but part of his charm is he finds
himself in increasingly suspect company and situations that he is ill-equipped
to deal with. It is here where the comedy excels. Cheyenne, this picture of the alternative, is often the
person who seems the sanest. Penn plays the part with such child-like charm and
innocence you fall for the burnt out rock star. His delicate giggle is warming, his Michael Jackson
high-pitched speech pattern further offering a reason this man is outside,
looking in. He’s damaged, almost
certainly from over-indulgence in his heyday but brings his own adorable,
worldly innocence to the film.
Writer/director Paolo Sorrentino, having had success in
his native Italy with Il Divo, handles the drama with poise and the comedy with
subtlety. It may move at a slow
pace and alienate some audiences with its lack of focus but Sorrentino knows
where the strength of his film lies.
He keeps Cheyenne isolated against the magnificence of the American
Where This Must
Be The Place frustrates is in abandoning its opening act promise. Yes, Cheyenne’s road trip is fun but
his interactions, in particular with the criminally underused Francis
McDormand, with his friends and family in Ireland, is where the real delights
of the film lie. Unfortunately,
these moments are there more to bookend the voyage Cheyenne must take and leave
you feeling like he has left something far more intriguing behind.
long as we’re in the company of Penn, everything else pales to insignificance.
He is mesmerising and strangely appealing as this awkward, depressed and
childlike rock-star. His bizarre
granny specs perched on the end of his nose and hair to put Amy Winehouse to
shame, he shows once again what a chameleon he is as an actor. In another’s hands, Cheyenne could
easily have been a caricature, but with Penn there is genuine humanity to hang
the heart of the film on.
Quirky, cute and
heartfelt This Must Be The Place might suffer from a misguided storyline but
the charm of the situations and, in particular, Penn, make for a film that will
paint a more than satisfied smile on your face.