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This Must Be The Place

Cannes 2011 Review

The Weinstein Company; 118 minutes

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Written by on May 22, 2011 

In Paolo Sorrentino‘s This Must Be the Place, Sean Penn plays a spoof of The Cure‘s Robert Smith named Cheyenne. Dressed in all black with disheveled hair and wearing goth style makeup, Penn spends most of the movie in a state of bored stupor with his post rock star life. But all that is about to change when after learning that his father is dying in New York, Cheyenne goes to visit him only to arrive too late. Having been estranged from his father for nearly 30 years, he then learns of a Nazi guard, of former SS Officer Aloise Muller, who humiliated his dad in Auschwitz and becomes determined to avenge him. The film which is a combination of a grandiose Scorsese style camera movements and what feels like an SNL sketch going on for too long, This Must Be The Place strives for a deeper emotional resonance when really only being superficial.

As Penn’s character Cheyenne embarks on his road trip across the United States, he meets a colorful cast of characters who each pepper him with a life lesson. The format of this kind of adventure is a little stale but there are some interesting archetypes of the typical Americana persona, as viewed through Sorrentino’s absurdest Italian lens. From a grizzled Nazi hunter to a quick tempered Wall Street money man, there are no shortages of interesting people Cheyenne meets on his way to face his fathers torturer. Celebrity sightings or in no short supply either, as Bono‘s daughter Eve Hewson makes her big screen debut, alongside the like of Frances McDormand as Cheyenne’s faithful wife and David Byrne making the best surprise appearance as himself with a riveting performance of the classic Talking Heads song from which the title of the film is derived.

And while all these cool cameos paint the landscape of appreciation for Sorrentino filmmaking, the film itself never seems to escape its own paradoxical ways. Penn’s Robert Smith routine starts to border on irritating and his sometimes monochromatic inflections on life come off as eerily dull. Yet, this is the big pull for the film, unless you are bowled over by his performance, you’ll come out of the theater with a desire to go and listen to the brilliance of The Cure’s music instead of reflecting on Penn’s paltry interpretation. As Cheyenne comes closer and closer to his goal of finding the now 95-year-old Nazi, the film becomes more and more cliche, filling every scene with a new uncomfortable situation for the audience to laugh at while Penn’s stale Smith impersonation becomes increasingly dull. This Must Be the Place has trouble finding its voice and the end result is a parody that becomes stricken with the same kind of boredom that its main character is suffering from.


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