Did you hear the one about the former goth rocker who goes in search of the Nazi war criminal who humiliated his father? Well, no—guaranteed you haven’t heard that one before, which should give you a sense of the deliriously WTF nature of this relentlessly bizarre comedy from Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo). Our protagonist is Cheyenne (Sean Penn, terrific), a soft-spoken Robert Smith look-alike living off his royalties in Dublin. The early sections attune us to his unique lifestyle—leisurely days spent wandering the local mall, playing handball in his estate’s empty swimming pool and pondering things like “What is Lady Gaga?”
Then the call comes from America: Cheyenne’s dad, whom he hasn’t spoken to in several decades, is near death. This inspires our travel-averse hero to return home and eventually embark on a cross-country journey to find that SS officer and—maybe, probably, since Cheyenne is digressive by nature—get revenge. The layovers are plentiful: a visit with the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, playing himself (one of his songs gives the film its title); a chance meeting with the man who first put wheels on suitcases—he’s played by Harry Dean Stanton, which strengthens the sense that we’re watching an emo-tinged homage to Wim Wenders’s great Paris, Texas (1984). But where that existential road movie expanded profoundly in the mind, This Must Be the Place fades in power and effect the closer Cheyenne gets to his goal. The film’s numerous idiosyncrasies—virtues at the outset—ultimately suffocate it.
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