This Must Be the Place
is not a movie so much as a feature-length opportunity to gaze deeply into the creases of Sean Penn’s face. Penn plays forlorn and aging glam rocker Cheyenne, whose heavily powdered visage fills the screen for much of the film. Penn’s portrayal is absorbing: He looks like Edward Scissorhands dressed in drag, and he spends his days wallowing in his Dublin mansion, staring listlessly into space and playing handball with his wife (Frances McDormand) at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. When he speaks, each word sounds like air being slowly released from a balloon. The plot, however, is not as well-executed. Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino holds viewers hostage in a prolonged introductory phase of character development, during which he fixates on cultivating vague personality quirks rather than establishing any clear motives or relationships. Cheyenne is summoned to his estranged father’s bedside in New York, but he arrives too late—his father, an Auschwitz survivor, is already dead. And so, at a loss for better things to do, Cheyenne decides to carry on his father’s mission to track down and kill a Nazi war criminal hiding out in the U.S. Sorrentino lovingly crafts a handful of compelling subplots only to leave their loose ends untied, and he hits bumps in the main plot line as well. Though Cheyenne’s dark, comedic escapade through rural America is composed of gorgeous camera work and excellent tunes (many by David Byrne, who makes a great cameo appearance), the plot is ultimately too disjointed to carry the story.