The Laughin' Place?
This Must Be The Place is a film of episodes that are loosely linked together by a plot that is called upon only when required. Occasionally, these episodes are pleasant, well-considered affairs. In the film's highlight, we're treated to a lengthy slow zoom in which David Byrne and his band perform the film's title track live. It's an enjoyable and technically impressive diversion, and momentarily you might wish you were watching a sequel to Stop Making Sense. But you aren't, and despite good intentions, here we have a film that meanders endlessly while only infrequently hitting the intended marks.
The sole linking factor in the film's disparate sequences is Sean Penn as Cheyenne: an aging and effeminate one-time pop star living a life of luxury in Dublin. It's a one-note and gimmicky performance that is almost entirely devoid of depth and is mostly an unpleasant distraction, despite a few lightly comic moments involving his awkward laugh. Bored and depressed, he leaves his loving wife (an underused Frances McDormand) behind in Ireland in order to travel to America and visit his dying, estranged father. Taking the ship - due to his supposed pteromerhanophobia - he fails to arrive in time. With guilt now a major factor in his continued psychological degradation, Cheyenne resolves to track down a Nazi war criminal who once tormented his father.
Yep. Nazi war criminal. It's a development that comes from out of nowhere, and is such a ludicrous, clichéd addition to the film that it makes it hard to invest for the remainder of the (extended) running time. Indeed, the whole American 'twist' is an odd-decision, especially given that director Polo Sorrentino has spent the guts of half-an-hour establishing a number of Dublin characters (including socially awkward Mary - played by Bono's young daughter Eve Hewson - and a band called The Pieces of Shit) whose plots are quickly rendered utterly redundant. Instead of focusing on them, the film shifts a gear and becomes a road movie occupied by a succession of odd, eccentric characters. Most of these are wasted, including Shea Wigham and Harry Dean Staunton popping up for a handful of almost pointless scenes. The odd genuinely funny or unusual moment - such as an amusing cameo by a silent Native American - are merely irreverent vignettes.
Director Paolo Sorrentino - responsible for the very impressive Il Divo a few years back - has a very odd sense of pace and tone here, and for me it mostly felt like a meandering saunter towards an uninteresting conclusion. There's little dramatic weight in the film, and your tolerance of the movie as a whole will likely boil down to your ability to endure its casual disregard for structure and its frequent embrace of the wacky & eccentric. Technically, the film often excels with dazzlingly bright and lively compositions. However, a deeply unusual and overwrought penchant for crane and dolly shots quickly distracts. Seriously: almost every shot in this film is swooping or gliding in some way or another, and for no particular reason. It's different, granted, but more infuriating than hypnotic. A climactic encounter, for example, repeats a lengthy camera track three times, but it's far more obvious than when Coppolla did the same thing in The Conversation.
If there's one thing to be said in This Must Be The Place's defence it's that it at least tries to be something new and refreshing. Yet in doing so it comes close to ignoring the overall structure and flow of the film, instead transforming into a collection of ill-fitting scenes that struggle to come together to form a coherent whole. A poorly-judged central performance helps nothing. Aptly for a film named after a song the one area This Must Be The Place is a moderate success is musically. A David Byrne / Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy) soundtrack provides multiple aural rewards, even when it doesn't gel with the images as well as one would hope. There are moments when This Must Be The Place threatens to become a fascinating film. Alas, they remain but moments, fleeting and inconsistent.
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