This Must Be The Place DVD Review

Rock Stars eh? After a few years at the tippy top, they retreat from public view, buy a big house and spend their days watching Jamie Oliver on their flat screen telly.

Well that’s what fictional gothic god of yesteryear, Cheyenne has done.

The childlike, fifty year old former lead of Cheyenne and the fellows is our main subject matter of Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place.

Cheyenne, a Robert Smith, Edward Scissorhands cross-breed played by Sean Penn, rattle’s around his Dublin mansion looking unhappy. Gone are the hedonistic days of pop stardom and, thanks to his royalties, so is his desire to do much.

So he fills his days with the routine of a suburban house husband, daytime TV, trips to supermarkets and hanging out with his pseudo daughter slash friend Mary and his firefighting wife Jane.

And he looks bored. Or confused. I’m not sure.

He gives little away.

Until the death of his father wakes him from this sleep like state and forces him back home to New York. And it’s here that the story picks up pace.

We learn that Cheyenne is Jewish and estranged from both his family and his late father, I imagine due to his rock star career path. Reunited, he learns that Daddy had a mission which he never fulfilled; so in an effort to make peace with the parent he left behind, he decides to complete it on his behalf.

This sends him on a voyage of discovery across the Midwest, battling his past and getting into all sorts of surreal and poignant situations.

At least they’re supposed to be, but it just doesn’t work.

A process of self-discovery can be a joy to watch, but you need to believe or at least be interested in the person changing. And Cheyenne is neither credible nor interesting.

Penn plays him as a one dimensional comedy character, relying on a high pitched voice and girlish giggles which would make Michael Jackson look positively butch. When the weighty subject matter of his Father’s secret comes up, Penn’s Cheyenne melts under the pressure and no amount of childlike charm can turn this around.

It’s not all Penn’s fault though; director Sorrentino starts many scenes with snippets of normality; people being happy and doing normal things before revealing Cheyenne; adrift, weird and alien like.

He’s like some sort of cinematic punch line and it only really works once, if at all.

Cheyenne’s little wifey Jane, played by the always excellent Frances McDormand, offers some hope of teasing out more from this troubled star but it fails. It feels more like you’re watching a Channel 4 documentary about special folk and their carers rather than a believable husband and wife.

The most interesting and dramatic scene sees Cheyenne meeting his former friend and peer David Byrne, who also wrote the music for This Must Be The Place.

I’d read about the iconic founding member of Talking Heads appearance prior to watching this and dismissed it as a simple cameo, but it’s much more than that.

Byrne is portrayed as some sort of musical wizard, simply doing and making music all the time. Cheyenne stares at some crazy light installation of Byrne’s and says: “You have such precise thoughts David”.

Faced with someone who used to be his contemporary, Cheyenne is forced to look at what his life could have been and the sad reality of what it’s become.

“I was just a fucking pop star!” he screams with genuine despair, but then Penn falls back into playing his high-pitched man-child caricature.

I could forgive Sorrentino’s slightly dubious script that he adapted from his own book, if it wasn’t for Penn’s overpowering presence. He’s pretty much in every scene, meaning he has the power to save or ruin This Must Be The Place.

Sadly, it’s the latter and I ended up feeling like Penn either didn’t even try to create a credible character or he was simply too far out of his acting comfort zone to pull Cheyenne off.

So it turns out this film really wasn’t the place for Penn to be.

Tim Green

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August 2012
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