What can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said elsewhere? Well, not much, but I’ll give it a go.
Many people have already mentioned just how offbeat Sorrentino’s debut film in the English language is, polarizing audiences with it’s intrinsically European take on celebrity isolation. Sean Penn plays mopey retired rock star Cheyenne who goes on a quest to hunt down a former Nazi officer and, in the process, validate his tormented and superficial existence.
The biggest insult that the film could receive is that, even through all the strangeness, it is increasingly boring. Although it is devoid of political stance, the holocaust context is dealt with rather carelessly as a comedic, narrative advance, when it could have added some emotional attachment and interest to the difficult central character. Working his ass off, as per usual, Penn tiptoes on the border between merited kookiness and annoyance in what is a far too willingly blatant Robert Smith impression.
If one thing can be said in This Must be the Place’s favour, it is ruthlessly anomalous. Although he may come across as coy and modest in interview, Sorrentino is uncompromising, creating the film exactly as he intended it to be. He wants Sean Penn in the lead and Frances McDormand in a wasted, supporting role as Cheyenne’s committed wife – Sorrentino gets it done. He wants David Byrne and Will Oldham to create the soundtrack – and throw in an inexplicably awkward cameo from Bicycle Byrne for good measure – Sorrentino makes it happen. Maybe it’s brash, vespa-riding coolness from the Italian, or maybe it’s a passion for artistic expression that seems to rub off on anyone he’s lucky to surround himself with.
Cerebral, rhythmic and indulgent, This Must be the Place is a directorial tour-de-force, even if the final destination may be indeterminable.