Release date: August 13th, 2012
Running time: 112 minutes
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Umberto Contarello, Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Eve Hewson, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, Joyce van Patten, David Byrne, Olwen Fouere, Shea Whigham, Liron Levo, Simon Delaney
Aging rock stars get a lot of bad press. News of tantrums, binges, bust-ups and affairs help to keep the tabloids in business and bloggers blogging but we’d like to think behind closed doors there’s a side to them we don’t see. Their on-stage personas and the antics we remember them for could be a million miles away from the people they really are underneath the make-up, outfits and big hair.
Paolo Sorrentino’s first English language film brings us a look at one of these aging rock stars lives. This Must Be The Place stars Sean Penn as Cheyenne, a once famous rock star who wrote and performed songs he didn’t really believe in but ended up making so much money that he can now afford to live comfortably in his retirement.
We meet him in Dublin, the place he’s chosen to get away from it all. With his goth make-up he looks every inch like The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith, and with his softly spoken voice and child-like way of dealing with everyday situations, he strikes us immediately as an eccentric character.
Cheyenne spends his time wandering around aimlessly; we sometimes see him pushing a trolly around, other times he’s eating in diners or having conversations with other people including Mary (Eve Hewson), a teenage fan who’s been depressed for some time. At home with his wife Jane (Frances McDormand), who’s a fire-fighter, they eat quietly and talk about his future financial investments. Yet there seems to be a dark cloud hanging over him.
When he gets news his father’s dying, Cheyenne returns to America, but arrives there too late. It’s here we see how different his early life must’ve been as the son of an Orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor. This is also when This Must Be The Place becomes more of a road movie as he embarks on a journey to track down the Nazi camp guard who tormented his father in Auschwitz.
Travelling across America, Cheyenne’s encounters with people reveal more about him and we discover it’s a deep sadness surrounding the unresolved issues with his father that now fuels his quest.
With many subtle and not-so-subtle nods to legends such as Bono, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Ozzy Osbourne, This Must Be The Place turned out to be a film that left me surprised, not only by Penn’s performance and knack for comedy, but also by the way it looks our culture, politics, history and obsessions with celebrity. Moments like when Cheyenne blankly asks his wife “Why is Lady Gaga …?” are priceless along with him teaching a couple of teenage boys how to play pin pong.
At times This Must Be The Place reminded me a little of Gus Van Sant’s and David Lynch’s films, especially in the way these whimsical conversations play out against the quiet backdrops of people getting on with the daily business of life. It’s also great to see David Byrne and Talking Heads making an appearance, given that the film takes its name from one of their song titles.
I’m not sure if the Holocaust angle felt a little too weighty for the film as it could’ve sailed quite well without it, but I really enjoyed Penn’s performance even though I couldn’t catch everything he was saying. His delivery is very soft, almost muted, but his presence throughout is magnetic, contributing greatly to a film that looks and sounds beautiful.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .