Film Review: This Must Be the Place
In This Must Be the Place Sean Penn plays an aging, retired 80’s rock star named Cheyenne who’s bored with life and now resides in an Irish suburban town, with his firefighter wife (Frances McDormand). When his father dies he has to visit the States for the first time in many years and winds up going on a road trip to find his father’s nazi tormentor who may or may not still be alive.
Describing this movie is not easy and neither is reviewing it. This Must Be the Place is some sort of sprawling epic that seems to be about a million things at once, going from one thing into another and you can’t for one moment predict what’s going to happen next. And yet the film rarely feels disjointed or overstuffed. This is a movie that seems to about everything, about life itself as a whole even. And somehow it works.
It’s difficult to explain why exactly the movie works. Other than simply saying that it’s very funny and entertaining and filled with beautiful visuals and lovely moments. This Must Be the Place is full of sadness and melancholy but there’s also a lot of sweetness in it. Cheyenne turns out to be a really sweet guy for one thing. He maybe be bored with life, numb almost, and rather depressed, but throughout the film he helps other people while asking for nothing instead. He’s not interested in being a rock star anymore and he’s got more enough money, so he doesn’t need to work. Instead he tries to help people, like trying to find two young people find love.
The cinematography here is magnificent, or rather, magnificently insane. Director Paolo Sorrentino and his DP Luca Bigazzi move the camera all over the place with seemingly every other shot being a crane shot and many scenes beginning with a moving camera swooping over the locations. Like the films’ “story”, the camera goes everywhere. Thus the form fits the content.
Sean Penn is marvelous in the leading role and his character can be described as some sort of cross between Robert Smith and… Truman Capote? (only the voice). He speaks in a calm, high-pitched voice and manages to make a character who could easily have been a silly caricature, a convincing and multi-faceted human being. France McDormand is also fabulous as his life-loving wife, as is Judd Hirsch as a jewish nazi-hunter who winds up helping Cheyenne.
The title is derived from the Talking Heads song “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” and we regularly hear variations of that song in the movie, mostly instrumentally. Talking Heads’ singer David Byrne did the music for the movie and also appears as himself, as he and Cheyenne are old friends in this movie. The song could be seen as some sort of key to decipher the movie and this portion of lyrics from the song in fact describes the film pretty well:
“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb – born with a weak heart
(so I) guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along”
If there’s any fault to be found to this film it’s perhaps that it may be a tad too cute and quirky at times. At time it could even be called sentimental. But it does earn the sentiment and the cuteness thankfully never goes way over the top. Some will probably find it insufferable, though.
Final verdict: It’s not easy to describe this movie but it’s very funny and entertaining and feels like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s very quirky and cute and some will find it insufferable, but if you’re in to this sort of thing it’s highly recommended.