'This Must Be the Place': What the Critics Are Saying

5:13 PM PST 11/01/2012 by Joshua Stecker
The Weinstein Company

Sean Penn's portrayal of a retired goth rock star on a mission to fulfill his father's dying wish may not win every critic over, but most agree it's hard not to take your eyes off of him.

In Paolo Sorrentino's new film This Must Be the Place, Sean Penn plays Cheyenne, a retired American goth rock star who survived the height of his success and is now living off his acquired fortune in relative obscurity in Ireland. When Cheyenne's father, a Holocaust survivor, passes away, he returns to New York City and discovers secrets from his father's past that sets him off on a road trip across the country to find a fugitive Nazi guard his father spent his life searching for.

The film also stars Frances McDormand as Cheyenne's wife, Judd Hirsch and Harry Dean Stanton and features a cameo by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who also supplies the film's soundtrack.

The film was written by Sorrentino and Umberto Contrarello, with the story by Sorrentino.

The Weinstein Co. film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

This Must Be the Place received a score of 76 from Rotten Tomatoes.

VIDEO: Sean Penn Goes Goth, Hunts Nazis in 'This Must Be the Place' Trailer

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wasn't too fond of the film when he reviewed it at last year's Cannes Film Festival, writing, "Eccentric, misguided and occasionally charming and sweet, this curiosity item with Sean Penn in one of his nuttier performances is unlikely to be embraced critically or commercially."

McCarthy adds, "Penn dominates the film, of course, although it’s a performance that slithers between the genuine and the stunt-like. The actor has pitched his voice higher than usual and a degree of artificiality infects not only the performance but the film as a whole. There are moments, however, when Penn finds authentic veins of character that are disarmingly childlike, naïve and sincere, aspects that convincingly portray what an unevolved man of this sort might actually be like."

Chris Packham at The Village Voice offers a different opinion, writing, "Penn is astonishing, creating a funny, guileless waif, infusing a faded celebrity figure with tactility and humor."

Packham adds, "Sorrentino's languorous photography, understated humor, and quiet but profound dramatic reveals coil together into something organic, whole, and achingly sweet."

STORY: Paolo Sorrentino's 'This Must Be The Place' Claims Top Prize at Italy's Nastri d'Argento honors

Anthony Lane at The New Yorker also enjoyed the film, writing, "Indeed, so richly accoutred is the character, and so attentive to nuance is Penn’s every move, that Cheyenne smothers the film. Previously, Sorrentino has stood back and coolly inspected his creations, yet now he seems in awe, and the movie invites us, rather too pleadingly, to lend Cheyenne not just our pity but our love."

Lane adds, "As for the plot, we learn that Cheyenne is Jewish, he learns that his father’s persecutor from Auschwitz may still be alive, and the trembling goth is transformed into a pistol-packing Nazi-hunter. Even if you try to bend all that beneath the movie’s overarching theme of humiliation, past and present, it still feels like a terrible fit. Best to lay it aside, perhaps, and concentrate on the flashing joys and magic sounds that Sorrentino provides -- starting with the title, which he borrowed from a Talking Heads song."

Across the pond, Philip French at The Observer hastens to sing the film's praises, calling it "irritatingly eccentric" and writing that the film's conclusion "is as misguided, and nearly as offensive, as the concentration camp sequences of Life Is Beautiful, the movie that brought Oscars to Sorrentino's compatriot Roberto Benigni. Along the way there are occasional arresting images, but they prove minor compensations."

Over in Australia, Ed Gibbs at The Sunday Age expresses his disappointment with the film, writing, "I'm still yet to be convinced by the very idea of Cheyenne, or by the Wim Wenders-inspired journey he undertakes across the U.S. Even the musical set piece that's thrown in, featuring David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame), feels out of step with what's unfolding."

Gibbs adds, "The film seems to be aiming for a whimsical flourish on an otherwise unpleasant subject. Its premiere at last year's Cannes festival met with a mixed response. I remain underwhelmed."

Mark Jenkins at NPR writes that the film's "mashup of genres and themes doesn't entirely succeed, but it is warm, funny and ably crafted."

Jenkins concludes by writing, "Cheyenne's quest is an attempt to construct a posthumous bond with his father. But it's also a search for maturity by a man who admits, "I pretended to be a kid too long." Sorrentino's symbol for accepting adulthood is a dubious one, but this journey through the sad and the strange is well worth following."

This Must Be the Place opens in theaters on Nov. 2.

 

Email: Joshua.Stecker@thr.com; Twitter: @joshuastecker

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