So with great expectations I sat down to watch This Must Be the Place starring Sean Penn. After meeting Penn at the Cannes Film Festival, Sorrentino decided to write this film with him in mind. I would say this is an unusual role for Penn, but I’m not sure such a role exists for this versatile actor.
We meet Cheyenne (Sean Penn) still wearing the glam rock makeup of a pop star despite the fact that he has been retired for twenty years. We learn as the film unfolds that this was self-imposed retirement after two of his fans, under the influence of his music, killed themselves. His personality reminded me of the disjointed thought processes of Ozzy Osbourne, but the inspiration for his look comes from Robert Smith of The Cure. Sorrentino was fascinated with the fact that the aging rock star continues to wear full makeup even off stage. Smith identifies with his stage persona all the time.
Cheyenne, like many famous people, acts slightly put out when someone recognizes him, but the fact that can not be ignored is that he could simply avoid all of that attention and be almost unrecognizable if he would tame his hair and leave the makeup in the tubes. So one must think that there is a part of him that still wants to be recognized.
Cheyenne is living in Dublin in a beautiful, but nearly empty home with his wife Jane (Frances McDormand). He is nearly catatonic with boredom, annoyingly disconnected with a nervous laugh that can be grating on the nerves. The laugh does become endearing as we start to realize that behind the facade of depression lurks a man who can still appreciate life.
His life takes a turn when his father dies, a man he has not talked to in almost thirty years. He takes a <s>plane</s> boat back to New York for the funeral. He finds his father’s diary chronicling his time in a concentration camp and the humiliation he suffered at the hands of SS officer Alois Lange. His father had spent a good part of his life searching for Lange with the hope of bringing him to justice. Unfortunately he proved elusive.
Aren’t all the Nazi’s dead?
It seems improbable that Cheyenne would take on an odyssey such as this given his difficulty with functioning well under even routine conditions. Travel is unpredictable, and many find it arduous, while others like myself find it invigorating. Cheyenne adjusts proving that he has some basic survival skills and can even flourish in regular society.
Sorrentino takes this assumed vendetta and uses it as an opportunity to make commentary on the gun culture in America. Cheyenne goes into this store that looks like the Walmart of gun shopping. He has never used a gun and has no idea what kind of gun he is looking for. He ends up buying this ridiculously long barrelled pistol that would have put Dirty Harry’s guns to shame.
Like all of the Sorrentino films I’ve seen there was no doubt that I enjoyed the film. How I felt about the film takes longer to process. Days, weeks, and years of rolling scenes through my mind will continue to tweak my initial impressions, not to mention the fact that I will certainly watch this movie again and again.