A psychologically compelling depth pervades this film, making it unique and memorable in elusive ways. In a meandering plot, Cheyenne attends his father's funeral in New York, a father he hasn't talked with for 30 years, and Cheyenne then heads to Michigan, Utah and New Mexico in search of a Nazi war criminal. Cheyenne's father had survived a concentration camp, the catalyst for Cheyenne's journey. He enjoys admirable support from his firefighter wife Jane, played by the always-wonderful Frances McDormand.
Penn is a revelation as Cheyenne, in full make up and Goth black wardrobe, a complement to the rock star’s depressed state. Penn and Paolo met when Penn was president of the Cannes Jury in 2008 and Paolo's "Il Divo" won the Jury Prize. At the group photo and the party after, Penn said to Paolo, "Any time, anywhere." He received this screenplay a year later and immediately said yes.
This resulted in a fortuitous working relationship. At the press conference at the 2011 Cannes film festival where “This Must Be the Place” premiered, Penn was asked how he developed the character, including his soft, high-pitched voice and lethargic walk. Penn explained, "Paolo and I talked at some length about aspects of depression and how that would affect physicality. Paolo had very specific ideas concerning what the character would look like. . . I turned the pages, he played the piano." For his part, writer/director Sorrentino drew on his affection for Robert Smith of The Cure.
The familiar journey motif uses Cheyenne’s physical movement to track his emotional development. He blends a disheartened, well nigh sleep walking Cheyenne with unpredictable characters who help along the way. They include Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, and, my favorite, David Byrne who sings the title song. As so often happens, the U.S. looks gorgeous through the eyes of Italian Sorrentino. “This Must Be the Place” is a strange, eerily mesmerizing, offbeat film. At a Landmark Theatre.