Deriving its title from arguably the best Talking Heads song of all, This Must Be the Place is an oddity pairing director Paolo Sorrentino with leading man Sean Penn. Bored of retirement, a rocker embarks on a journey, seeking out the man who executed his father, an ex-Nazi war criminal. Sorrentino presents us his debut English-language feature, and does so with promising style that would soon transfer over to his later offering, Youth, only four years later. Using that unique momentum of his direction to the best of his abilities, he combines a fascinatingly strange story with the powerful cast assembled to craft a sturdy breach into the mainstream English-language markets.
Dressed up in similar fashion to modern-day Robert Smith of The Cure fame, Penn portrays Cheyenne. His underwhelmed lifestyle and general banality are obvious from the very first moments, and they transpire throughout This Must Be the Place. His high-pitched complaints and admirable confidence in such an odd role grapples well with this script from Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello. The faded and jaded Rockstar trying to acclimatise to the real world is a striking and interesting look at the star power impact. He longs for the glory days, Cheyenne’s rush to seek out his father’s executioner isn’t for any moral reason, it’s to break away from the oncoming tide of mediocrity preparing itself to crash upon his life.
Haunted he may be, but Cheyenne makes for superb company on his odyssey of America. His cadence and style a clear culture clash to the backdrop of homeland Americana and charming Dublin landscapes, something Sorrentino brings out with such unique grace. His direction has moments of artistic beauty, but it feels removed from scenes that detail plot developments. Whether it’s an intentional choice or one that struggles under the ferociously strange story, This Must Be the Place can’t quite piece together its novelty and its merits as an endearing oddball journey. Disjointed at times, and not at all perfect in its execution, the road trip style of these later moments are a mixed bag of strong concepts but weak executions.
That does indeed summarise the main issue at the heart of This Must Be the Place. It has a wholly great cast of engaging artists within, but Sorrentino and his script don’t quite understand how to make it all work. All the right components are there, and the benefits of having such a versatile star at the centre are touched upon, but never fully adapted to create something engaged with its message. Fun, fine, and a competent drama with more than a few points of interest. It’s just a shame the story doesn’t go the whole way. Home may be the place Cheyenne wants to be, but to get there he must make amends with a childhood and collection of past memories that plague his mind. A strong and acceptable musing on the shallow nature of individuals and how it’s never too late to make a change, This Must Be the Place is a rewarding time, but can’t push itself that extra mile.