By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
This Must Be the Place first popped onto my radar way back at Cannes 2011. With Sean Penn collaborating with Italian art house director Paolo Sorrentino, playing a son reconnecting with his estranged, deceased father by hunting down his Auschwitz tormentor, I felt I had a handle on what this movie was.
Oh, wait a minute.
That plot synopsis is accurate, only Penn’s character is Cheyenne, an aging millionaire rocker a la Ozzy Osborne by way of Robert Smith. He’s retired after the suicide of two teenagers allegedly influenced by his lyrics, and increasingly bored and depressed. His life with wife Frances McDormand and a teenage girl who’s his best buddy is surprisingly mundane, until his journey to find his father’s persecutor takes him across America, and inside himself.
It takes awhile to get into this film’s rhythm, which is slowly paced and very oddball, but once you do there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. This film is not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before- a tag that applies doubly to Sean Penn’s performance. Besides the startling physical transformation, Penn uses a surprisingly quiet, effeminate voice and a world-weary posture to create a character as unique as any you’ll see this year.
Unless Daniel Day-Lewis pulls more than that crazy, historically accurate voice out of his stovepipe hat
Penn is absolutely superb, but the rest of the cast especially McDormand, do great as well in roles that demand the ability to mix humor and drama. It’s certainly a weird mix, but they make it work with both hilarious and affecting results. This is supported by a beautifully shot and crafted film, with the cinematography and virtuoso sound design both highlights.
The strange combo of comedy and drama doesn’t always work. In particular, the way Penn finally confronts the elderly Nazi seems like it’s from an entirely different movie than, for example, the chubby kid singing awkwardly ten minutes before.
There are a couple of plotlines (maybe just one) involving Cheyenne, the two suicides, his teenage friend, her missing brother, and lastly her grief-stricken mother, that neither add up nor add anything to the film. When it ends with one of these plotlines, you have to raise an eyebrow. There’s nothing about this movie that demands an ambiguous ending.
Very funny, well-crafted, and as singular a movie experience as you’re likely to get this year. I could definitely see this being a love it or hate it kinda film, though. Chime in in the comments!
Take a Drink: every time a member of the public recognizes Cheyenne
Take a Drink: whenever Jeffrey talks about sex
Do a Shot: whenever the Holocaust is mentioned