This Must Be the Place

Penn Mental State


02 November 2012| No Comments on This Must Be the Place     by Sean Chavel


A disaster, but an interesting disaster. This Must Be the Place features Sean Penn in drag as a goth has-been rock star (named Cheyenne) who has had little to do in the last thirty years except live off his royalties. More to the point, he is a depressed has-been rock star. We wonder if the people who care for him are family or employees (?). He steps out of his Dublin, Ireland box to make his father’s funeral in America. His father, a Holocaust survivor who had a commandant tormentor whom is still alive somewhere in Midwest America, prompting Cheyenne to track him down. It is one of those movies all over the map, figuratively and literally.

When we first see Cheyenne, it is in the morning putting on eye and lip make-up. I had the strange feeling that the character was doing this compulsively for years – that Cheyenne didn’t like putting on makeup but felt it has become obligatory self-debasement. The old drag queen is now old and weathered, sort of thing, and makeup assists now to make himself uglier. By the end of the film, I had my answer to my suspicions.

As an actor who is willing to test himself to any limits, watching Penn do this depressed rock star thing is kind of squirmy and itchy-making, but strangely captivating. It is only a matter of time where the fey, falsetto speech is dropped in favor of temperamental outbursts. That is, eventually, we understand why Cheyenne hates himself (he has a wife, surprisingly, who is endlessly patient and compassionate of his angst). Going on an American trek to find your father’s Nazi tormentor shouldn’t be the story to solve the angst. The two themes don’t mesh. Plus really, very few have been able to make a film successful with a verklempt cross-dresser for a main protagonist.

Lump portions of the film are absurd. But Paolo Sorrentino, the director and story by credit, behind the camera has immense visual wit that recalls 1970’s road trip movies. There was another filmmaker who struck out at an early at-bat, and then went on to accolades: Lee Daniels, who made the cock-eyed “Shadowboxer” (2005) before making the masterpiece “Precious” (2009) in his sophomore effort. If Sorrentino makes a masterpiece as his next work, we can point to the hidden genius found in this film – a wacko effort that showed promise.

Also with Frances McDormand, Eve Hewson, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton and David Byrne as himself.

111 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” (1994); “Velvet Goldmine” (1998); “I’m Not There” (2007); “Milk” (2008).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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