Paolo Sorrentino’s study of an eccentric, isolated and discontented ex-rocker who is pushed on a journey of self-discovery by his father’s death makes for nauseating, self-conscious and painful viewing. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, starring Sean Penn as aging rock star Cheyenne, sets out to be a quirky, unconventional comic drama: but the affected protagonist is a cliché struggling to carry a ludicrous plot.
We begin in Cheyenne’s secluded mansion in Ireland, where his chief companions are his fitness-obsessed wife (an unimpressive turn by Frances McDormand) and a brooding teen (Eve Hewson), the latter still reeling from an unexplained abandonment by her brother. Cheyenne shuffles wordlessly around his odd world, lost and adrift as his past fame isolates and dissatisfies him. Then he is abruptly called to America as his father, whom he has ostracised for three decades, is on his deathbed. Upon his father’s death Cheyenne resolves to complete his Jewish father’s revenge mission against the Nazi officer whom he encountered in the Holocaust. Thus Cheyenne sets off across the vast, burnt terrains of rural America to encounter all sorts of ‘oddballs’ like himself, fulfil his father’s final wish and have his own voyage of self-discovery.
… the backdrop of the Holocaust is so inane it’s actually offensive …
The story is a random, ridiculous one that is never quite believable, completely riding on the premise that Sean Penn’s portrayal of an eccentric can carry the film. The unfortunate thing is, you just don’t care that much about him. He is a cliché through and through, from the affected high flat laugh to his nervous tics. The constant moans of ‘my father didn’t love me’ and ‘I think I’m depressed’ make him self-absorbed to the point of repugnant, and the backdrop of the Holocaust is so inane it’s actually offensive: a historical tragedy reduced to a cathartic vacation for an odiously shallow character. Sean Penn gives us a performance, not a flesh and blood person, and even some beautiful panoramic shots of the American terrain can’t save this hollow film. Throw in some patchy writing (the Nazi officer has a son called Nathan and a granddaughter named Rachel, both bizarrely Jewish names) and what we have is a pointless portrayal of a deeply unlikeable character’s awakening in a cynical and self-indulgent film.