- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Alex Lynchehaun
The big question is; why did Robert Smith, lead singer of proto-Goth band The Cure, cut off his hair in 1986? It’s because of all that Nazi-hunting he did. Paolo Sorrentino’s man-child coming-of-age story This Must be the Place seems to have emerged from this kind of conversation and only gets stranger.
Sean Penn (channelling Smith) follows up The Tree of Life and Milk with another strong turn as Cheyenne – an ageing rock star riddled with regrets and blessed with the voice of Alvin the chipmunk. Upon the death of his father Cheyenne travels from Dublin to America, alleviating the boredom of shopping for frozen pizzas and dabbling in the stock market. Post-paternal revelations lead to Cheyenne taking up his father’s quest to find a former Nazi guard living in the US.
The 118 minutes are scattered into an episodic form with different sides of Cheyenne revealed through his encounters. These allow Penn to develop what could have been a monotonous act. His scene with Talking Heads’ David Byrne (who plays himself and wrote the soundtrack) garners real insight into the troubles of a cultural icon. However, the dialogue-heavy style occasionally feels clunky. What’s more the narrative’s momentum suffers from introducing new characters so regularly, especially those who contribute nothing to the narrative arc. While some hit, others miss.
The actors can’t be blamed. Frances McDormand anchors the film with her wit and both Olwen Fouere and Heinz Lieven shine as shell-shocked elders. Sorrentino’s close-ups of Fouere and Lieven are remarkably affecting. The knowledge that such grace is part of his vocabulary leaves you questioning the logic behind sequences edited within an inch of their life or shot in inexplicable slow motion. It’s a shame that the strong, simple compositions this director can conjure are relegated to unimportant sections.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Penn provides laughs throughout the film. The row behind me, who practically erupted at the ‘man falls over barging through locked door’ routine, certainly enjoyed the slapstick. Unfortunately it’s when tackling the more conceptual comedy that, once again, inconsistency strikes. The odd couple who run a motel were fine, the diner ping-pong sequence was a hit, even the quirks of pet geese, wheelie suitcases and gigantic beer bottles can be found funny. But these images are not bound together by some Coen-brothers-style imagination. Instead they provide irrelevant, passable laughs. Too infrequently is the film’s own surrealism mocked, this is a real shame as the concept comedy is strongest during these passages.
If you want to watch peculiarly coiffured characters with daddy-issues hunting war criminals across America, then Avengers Assemble is more enjoyable and consistent than this unsatisfying piece.