I guess there comes a time in a rock star’s lives where they realize they need to look for Nazis.
Bored and jaded, former rock-star Cheyenne (Sean Penn) decides he needs to confront the Nazi war criminal who tormented his father in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He sets out on a road trip across America to find the fugitive.
This is a pretty weird premise, and having Penn in the lead-role, playing a guy that is essentially a mix between Robert Smith and Andy Warhol, makes it even weirder. However, being weird and a tad quirky doesn’t make a great movie, but it makes for a great performance and that’s sadly, all this film may be remembered for when the year 2012 is over. Sorry David Byrne, your soundtrack kicks-ass though.
Where I think director Paolo Sorrentino may have lost himself a bit with this material was thinking that by the idea that you have a weird, lead-character, that you automatically have to make everything else in the film exactly like that and to top that all off, you have to make everything be as random as a guy walking on the beach with a horse’s head. In case you couldn’t tell by that last statement, that idea of random is exactly what happens many of times throughout this whole movie and it never makes any sense other than the fact that Sorrentino believes this is what he needs to spice his story up.
Since it is a road-movie, with this lead character going-on throughout all of these different areas and discovering himself, we get treated (or tricked, still can’t get rid of Halloween lingo) to a bunch of random encounters Cheyenne has with people that either have to do with the Nazi he’s searching for, or just plain and simple people in general. Sometimes these bits are amusing, but other times just feel obvious as if Sorrentino needed people to have this mean something and touch our hearts, but oddly, it never does. Actually, throughout the whole film I was sort of left without any sort of feeling whatsoever. Sometimes it made me laugh, sometimes it was sweet, but mostly, it just moving at a pace that I didn’t really care for, all because it’s a bit too random and strange for my pleasures.
Maybe quirky, little indies like this aren’t the perfect pieces of pie for me, maybe that’s what it is, but whatever it is here, it doesn’t work and it feels like a missed-opportunity too, because this story could have really, I mean, really touched everybody who witnessed it. It’s only worse to know that the movie doesn’t succeed at that and instead, settles for being a strange flick that goes nowhere with itself and believe it or not, only brings up it’s main-plot about 45-minutes through the whole film. Before we even get to the part where this plot is even introduced, we are shown Cheyenne and the way he carries his life and as funny and interesting as it may be sometimes, it still didn’t do anything for me, or this movie. Seriously, something was missing here between me and this movie and I don’t know who’s fault it is. I’m going with the latter, but that’s just like my opinion, man.
However, in the middle of all this randomness, is a very good performance from Sean Penn who plays-up his goofy-side, that is a reminder as to why people loved (and still do love) Louie Spicolli after all of these years. Penn is basically playing a caricature of the typical, burn-out rock star that can’t seem to grow-up or get rid of his old days, but Penn makes it seem more than just that. He’s actually very good handling all of this goofy comedy that he has to deliver and does it with a great comedic-timing that’s made me miss him in comedies for the longest-time. His character, Cheyenne, may be a bit too hard to identify with considering how strange he truly is, but Penn makes it worth while and it’s probably the only reason to see this flick, especially if you think Penn is turning into a crazy hack that doesn’t deserve the light of day. Even if you don’t think this, trust me, there are people who do and he’s showing all of them up right now. Damn Sean Penn!
Playing his wife of 35 years is Frances McDormand and as great and charming as she is, she still comes off as a bit unbelievable due to the fact that Cheyenne is so freakin’ weird. I mean, maybe somewhere in the world a couple like this can come together and stay together as long as any other normal, married one, but in terms of cinematic reasoning, it doesn’t ring all that true to me even though McDormand tries her hardest to make it so. She seems more of a best-friend or sister that comes around and hangs out with Cheyenne from time-to-time and obviously they do some dirty stuff here to make you think otherwise, but take away those dirty scenes and I would most likely think of them as just a bro and sis. Then again, though, they both try their hardest and that’s how I looked at it after all.
Consensus: Even though it’s utter randomness, strangeness, and lack of emotional-heart doesn’t do This Must Be The Place any justice whatsoever, the acting from McDormand and Penn does and keep this film on it’s toes, even if it does seem to go down a road that we don’t really care for, nor actually believe in. Not terrible, but could have been so, so, so much damn better.