This Must Be the Place | Movie review
Sean Penn is Robert Smith, er, Cheyenne in a strange character study.
A dollop of mascara, a smear of blood-red lipstick and an unruly mess of jet-black hair are about all it takes to transform Sean Penn into Robert Smith in This Must Be the Place. Technically, the actor is playing a fictional frontman: Cheyenne, a sullen rock star lying low in Dublin, his career two decades behind him. But just as Michael Pitt’s blond grunge singer in Last Days was clearly a Cobain surrogate, Penn’s middle-aged musician is unmistakably modeled on the goth-for-life leader of the Cure. It’s initially an off-putting performance—all zombie stares and giggle fits, the type of droll creature Johnny Depp might concoct for Tim Burton. But adjust to the Oscar winner’s deadpan cartoon impersonation, and you may get on the wavelength of this quirkfest, the English-language debut of Il Divo director Paolo Sorrentino.
“I think I’m a tad depressed,” Cheyenne confesses to his wife (a chipper Frances McDormand); she thinks he’s just bored. The retired rocker soon finds a cure for his restlessness: taking up the lifelong vendetta of his estranged, recently deceased father. From here, This Must Be the Place goes episodic, dragging its black-clad protagonist all over America, where he mixes it up with a veteran Nazi hunter (Judd Hirsch, terrific) and David Byrne (who plays himself and, yes, performs the titular tune). There’s something modestly amusing about seeing an odd-duck character like Cheyenne thrust into a revenge story, though celebrity ennui and the horrors of the Holocaust mix uneasily. The entertainment litmus test lies in warming to Penn’s affected sad-sack routine. Those who still cry to “Boys Don’t Cry” should have no trouble.