Movie Review: This Must Be the Place
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
For about 30 minutes, “This Must Be the Place” gets by on the specificity of Sean Penn’s character work, the warmth of Frances McDormand and the loopy nature of the setup. Penn plays a former rock star from the ’80s, who still wears bright red lipstick and dyed Goth hair — the look seems lifted directly from Robert Smith of the Cure — and who lives in a huge house in Dublin with his wife (McDormand) of many years.
He speaks in a gentle voice, his every word like a delicate feeler checking to see if everything is safe, and he seems like an altogether sweet yet rather useless guy. That combination — the genuine niceness and the character’s awareness of his own apparent uselessness — is affecting, at least for a time. Also, the truth of Penn’s acting somehow keeps this fey character from veering into preciousness. But then the story kicks in, and the movie slowly comes apart, as in very slowly and very apart.
Mainly, the film concerns an effort by the former rock star to locate a Nazi war criminal, a prison guard who humiliated his father many years ago. The search is played out in slow motion, with no urgency or interest. Indeed, as the film goes on, it seems to slow down further, lingering on details of the landscape and on pointless scenes with people met along the way. There’s a ridiculous cameo by David Byrne that makes you suspect that director Paolo Sorrentino really just likes the Talking Heads and wanted to meet the guy.
Worst of all, in promoting its hero’s eccentric journey as a voyage of healing, the movie replaces emotional precision and intellectual honesty with syrupy sincerity and insistence. It turns boring and cute and begs us to love it.