This must be the place is the new film from acclaimed Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino. It features a compelling central character and lots of memorable images but, unfortunately, doesn’t do very much with them.
Sean Penn is Cheyenne, a bored, retired rock star (with an uncanny resemblance to The Cure’s Robert Smith) who lives in an Irish mansion with his adoring wife, Jane (Frances McDormand). Cheyenne is quietly spoken – his voice little more than a whisper – and due to a back problem, walks with a stiffened zombie-like shuffle.
We are introduced to Cheyenne as he stumbles around Dublin suburbia, frightening shoppers, obsessing over his share portfolio, or playing matchmaker to a couple of young friends. We also meet a mother grieving over the disappearance of her son, Cheyenne’s obnoxious friend, and a rock band looking to record their first album.
When Cheyenne hears that his father is dying, he travels to New York, but arrives too late to patch up a longstanding rift between the pair. He learns that his father – a Holocaust survivor – had spent his life searching for the Nazi officer who’d terrorised him. Cheyenne decides to take up the search.
The remainder of This must be the place ventures into familiar ‘quirky’ road movie territory, as the rock star travels aimlessly across the US, meeting an assortment of oddballs and eccentrics.
While Penn’s performance is one of the film’s highlights, the uncommunicative nature of the character makes it very hard to empathise with him, or even understand his motives at times. Initially, the Frances McDormand character provides us with a ‘window’ into Cheyenne’s world, but once the ‘action’ moves to the US we are on our own.
The American portion of the film is filled with secondary characters, but none are given any great depth, and they seem to come and go without purpose. For example, Cheyenne befriends a lonely waitress and her son, and a bond seems to grow between them. However, before the relationship can develop, or acquire any purpose in the film, Cheyenne leaves them, and their appearance seems ultimately pointless.
This must be the place looks lovely and every frame appears painstakingly constructed. Yet this also lends the film an air of pretentiousness, as does the movie’s preoccupation with odd, unexplained images or scenes. At times, the film even resembles a music video, with its succession of seemingly unrelated images.
I really wanted to like This must be the place. It has all the elements of an interesting, entertaining movie, but somehow fails to deliver.
I wonder if it’s because it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be – a serious examination of war crimes and the Holocaust, a reflection on fame and its consequences, or a simple ‘fish out of water’ comedy.
In the end, unfortunately, This must be the place is none of these.
Reviewed by Candy