Borrowing its name from the Talking Heads song, Paolo Sorrentino’s bizarre film sees Sean Penn as a rock star who takes to hunting down ex-Nazis in his retirement. Talking Head’s enigmatic front-man, David Byrne, makes a slightly pointless cameo, though it allows for a live rendition of ‘This Must be the Place’, which is perhaps the most enjoyable moment of the film. The band are celebrated for their progressive and left-field music, but sadly the film set to Byrne’s most famous creation cannot claim similar ingenuity.
This Must Be the Place opens with Cheyenne (Penn) moping around his Dublin mansion, living from his royalties. In full Goth garb (think a middle-aged Robert Smith), Sean Penn strikes a figure almost as comically ridiculous as the international diplomat role he played with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, which gleams a few laughs early on. His breathy delivery quickly becomes irritating though; the character seems more appropriate for a spoof sketch show than a feature length piece. Frances McDormand plays Cheyenne’s light-hearted and contrastingly competent fire-fighter wife offering an entertaining juxtaposition to the rockers self-constructed misery. However, one can’t help think the character borrows a little too much from Marge Gunderson (the role McDormand won an Oscar for in the Coen brothers Fargo) to be viewed as an original creation.
Despite this, the scenes in Dublin are reasonably amusing – scenes with Cheyenne alternating between obsessing over his Tesco shares and watching Jamie Oliver are nicely done. His clumsy attempts to set up his teenage Goth friend with an awkward shop attendant are also funny and despite Penn mercilessly over hamming the character, Cheyenne is endearing enough to make for moderately entertaining viewing. The plot then moves from Ireland across the Atlantic where Cheyenne goes to visit his estranged father on his deathbed.
Unfortunately, what then could have been an entertaining examination of Cheyenne reconciling himself with his roots becomes farcical when he embarks on a journey across the States to hunt down the former Auschwitz guard who tormented his late father. The choice of the Holocaust as a backdrop is peculiar and a little insensitive as parallels are drawn from Cheyenne’s own personal journey to that of Holocaust survivors. Sorrentino seems unsure of whether to use such a dark theme as a comic device and in the end merely flirts with the idea, giving little room for serious offence, or humour. The encounters Cheyenne stumbles upon along the way (occasionally adopting the pseudonym John Smith – a crude allusion to the Robert Smith influence) are varied in nature but uniform in being churlish and contrived: the film loses the thread somewhat in the latter half. In taking title and soundtrack from the fantastic ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’, the film had considerable potential, but after a reasonable start falls away into a drearily kitsch piece.
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