A new road picture starring Sean Penn in a dark wig and heavy makeup (giving pointers about it) adds up to an out-of-the-ordinary dramedy not the sum of some individual delightful parts.
This Must Be The Place has Penn (in stark contrast to his introverted presence in The Tree of Life) broadly etching one Cheyenne, a former rock star who dwells in Dublin with firefighter spouse Jane (Frances McDormand).
An unreadable, shrill-sounding Cheyenne often passes the time at a plaza with Goth skateboarding Mary (Eve Henson) whom he wants to go out with a diffident waiter in Desmond (Sam Keeley). The atonal tale goes from Ireland to American and, finally, back again once Cheyenne follows through on his just deceased father's obsession for a humiliation suffered at the hands of a Nazi at Auschwitz.
Following genre conventions that a maestro like Jim Jarmusch (Night on Earth, Coffee and Cigarettes) would admire Cheyenne will meet up with a well-known Nazi hunter, Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch), as well as the film's iconic composer (along with Will Oldham) playing himself, David Byrne. And, Harry Dean Stanton (in clerical garb in the gleefully violent and acerbic Seven Psychopaths) inhabits a man who purports to be behind that invaluable portable suitcase.
Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino lets Cheyenne come across as more bored than depressed with childlike naiveness; there is a solid rapport with McDormand's marvelously mundane Jane. Hewson and Hirsch also fine in the process though the former is probably shortchanged by the constraints made in the screenwriting process which never truly coalesces with some lovely, lush images and an enlivening soundtrack to say the least.
This Must Be The Place isn't the kind of place that few if any mainstream cineastes would inhabit if for the curiosity to see Penn probably enjoying an offbeat change of pace and dialogue. The effort in channelling the eccentricities with some low-key flair and a crisply polished production doesn't support what's missing from a coda which suggests rich, honest emotional impact.