Thursday, April 19, 2012

This Must Be the Place

By s. Thursday, April 19, 2012 , , , , , ,
71/100 (118 min, 2011)
Plot: A bored, retired rock star sets out to find his father's executioner, an ex-Nazi war criminal who is a refugee in the U.S.
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Umberto Contarello (screenplay), Paolo Sorrentino (screenplay)
Stars: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand and Judd Hirsch

Head in the clouds

"This Must be the Place" is a quirky story about a man respecting his father's wishes and going for a journey and in the process of it - growing up. It's yet another of the movies we saw in recent time - much like Mavis Gary in "Young Adult" and Matt in "The Descendants" the protagonist of "This must be the place" is searching for one thing and finds something else along the way. But that protagonist is not an ordinary person - he is a middle aged rock star, whose band was famous 20 years ago, named Cheyenne.

The film is very peculiar - we only know what Cheyenne knows, sometimes even less. He is alone in his journey so for most of it we simply follow him, not knowing exactly where he is going or why does he question people he visits. He travels around United States visiting different people - an elder teacher, a waitress and a single mother among others and he interacts with the people he meets along his way, which brings along a lot of quirky moments such as the scene where Cheyenne plays ping pong or gives the group of girls tips about how to apply lipstick.
As much as the juxtaposition of the tragedy of Holocaust and the bizarre character of Cheyenne is something fresh and unique, I felt the movie was much more enjoyable in its beginning when we simply observed Cheyenne's life - his interactions with a young girl named Mary, whom he tries to fix up with the guy they meet in the mall and with his wife Jane, with whom he has a loving and understanding relationship. Those scenes are filled with a lot of joy and because of the colorful and memorable characters they are very fun to watch.

After his father dies Cheyenne goes on his trip and while this part of the movie is still very enjoyable, the supporting characters are often puzzling, as we don't know their motives and they only have a little of screen time. With the exception of Rachel, a young mother Cheyenne spends some time with, none of this moments were particularly memorable, apart from the humorous moments which because of Cheyenne's bizarre and amusing reactions to the events surrounding him were truly hilarious.
The character of Cheyenne is so fascinating and fun to watch that all it takes for you to enjoy the movie was for the director to simply put him in the scene. Thanks to Sean Penn's bold and dedicated performance, Cheyenne truly remains the heart of the movie. Looking a little bit like Robert Smith from "The Cure" Cheyenne is a cross of a rock star and an immature child - he often engages in playing tricks on others like with the girls who laughed at him at the store and his reactions to the world that surrounds him are filled with curiosity and naivety.

The things he says are also a great source of humour as they are so odd it's not something you would hear every day - "I have a fear of flying and also a mild fear of death". He rarely smiles and all the things he says are said in a serious and very calm matter, which makes him look like one of the most mellow characters that come to my mind. He also has very distinctive laugh which only adds to the impression that despite being middle aged, Cheyenne is really like a small child looking for adventures every day.
There is a very puzzling and ambiguous subplot in the movie involving Cheyenne and Mary's mother which brings in a very odd and metaphorical ending, which as lovely as it is may be a little too bizarre for many people. I liked it, since I thought it was presented in a matter keeping up with the tone of the movie, that established the story by leaving many things unsaid and unexplained, asking us to simply observe the character and follow him along on his journey. The end is basically a statement that Cheyenne has grown up, but as to what it means exactly and why he needed to do so, we have to wonder ourselves.

The film has great acting not just from Penn but also from Frances McDormand as his wife Jane, who leads happy and unusual life by his side and supports him every day. There is also an interesting young woman Mary, who may or may not be related to Cheyenne but who remains his close friend and companion - she is played by Bono's daughter Eve Hewson, who despite her brief screen time managed to create a memorable performance of an interesting young woman, who despite being an outsider doesn't shy away from interacting with others and speaking her mind.
The people met on the road by Cheyenne are all interesting, even if at times they only have a single scene. The most impressive performance here is delivered by Kerry Condon as Rachel, the scenes with whom bring the most heartfelt moments of the movie. The soundtrack is wonderful and the song which brought the title to the movie - "This must be the Place" is performance on stage by David Byrne in one scene, in a very impressive sequence that uses a lot of great visual tricks.

One of the biggests assets of the movie is the gorgeous cinematography, that is composed out of impressive individual shots or fluent movements of camera, always moving with grace and putting a lot of vibrant colors in the frames. It perfectly shows how much Cheyenne is standing out in the crowd, or even on the empty street. Whether he is at the airport, in the diner of in the living room, drinking tea, he is always standing out in a visible way, almost like a dark cloud on a sunny day.
"This must be the Place" is a refreshing and entertaining movie, but it's definitely not for everyone. It has a huge amount of quirkiness and ambiguity in it, but it definitely works as a metaphorical journey to adulthood through interacting with others and dealing with their demons, symbolically punishing evil in the end and being reborn as a completely new, happier person.


  1. Haven't seen this yet but Sean Penn is one of the best actors out there, so it must work.

    1. He is really amazing, it's one of his better recent performances.

  2. Sounds great to me. Your review has me not so interested in the story but hugely looking forward to Penn's performance and getting to 'meet' this character. Great review, thanks!

    1. Thanks! It's really a great character, it's much more fun to watch him on screen than actually following the story closely :)

  3. I'll try and watch this soon. It looks really cool. Also Penn and McDormand are good enough reasons for me to watch almost anything.

    1. They have amazing chemistry in the movie too :)

  4. I really want to see this one. I missed it at 2 festivals last year. Now it is on national release I think I will have to indulge. Thanks Sati

    1. You really should see this one, it's quite an unusal road movie :)