This Must be the Place

This Must be the Place

Cue Sean Penn as you have seen or heard him before – a zombified ‘80s rock star thrust onto a voyage of discovery following the death of his estranged father.

Living in reclusive isolation in Ireland, Cheyenne (Penn) discovers that his dad was a Jew who survived the Holocaust and spent his entire life looking for the Nazi guard who made his young life hell. Arriving too late to his father’s bed in America, a reluctant Cheyenne turns Sherlock Holmes and heads off across country.

This Must be the Place sounds like heavy drama but in fact it offers the chameleon Penn the opportunity to portray another oddball in fright wig, eyeliner and lipstick. The voice comes courtesy of comedian Emo Philips crossed with Scooby Doo’s Shaggy but the eyes are ever watchful. Cheyenne may be a kook but he’s far from dumb.

This highly unusual, very eccentric, frequently hilarious road movie has as its hero a man/child who experiences an emotional and cultural awakening. Like Sullivan on his travels he re-engages with an America he left behind long ago, enjoys the kindness of strangers and the power of average humanity.

There is support from Frances McDormand and veteran Harry Dean Stanton while Judd Hirsch, as a self-styled Wiesenthal-esque investigator, provides the living commentary to Cheyenne’s mission.

Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, This Must be the Place moves at a confidently leisurely pace and takes its audience into several cul-de-sacs but never a blind alley. There are echoes of Penn’s Into the Wild as his outsider bumps around normal folk, but heading always for a very specific destination.

The father-son dynamic is ever-present but deftly underplayed, and Penn, barely recognisable, gives a performance that is offbeat, quirky and wholly original.

 

 

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