Funnier on screen than he’s been in any part since permanently stoned surfer dude Jeff Spicoli in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridegmont High, Sean Penn is terrific in the lead role of Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s distinctly offbeat This Must Be the Place, an unexpected charmer of a movie that is consistently quirky, often laugh-out loud funny and sometimes surprisingly poignant too.
Sporting head-to-toe black, rat’s nest hair, eyeliner, red lipstick and a nervous, high-pitched giggle of a voice, Penn here plays retired Goth-rock star Cheyenne (think The Cure’s Robert Smith)), who emerges from the Dublin mansion where he’s been holed up for decades to embark on a quixotic quest across America to track down the Auschwitz guard who once persecuted his father.
Tackling the Holocaust in a comedy is an extremely risky enterprise (just think of Roberto Benigni’s mawkish Life is Beautful), but Sorrentino somehow pulls it off, aided by dazzling visuals and great sight gags, by an inspired choice of music (including the Talking Heads song that gives the film its title) and by Penn’s remarkable performance.
Incidentally, it’s well worth seeking out the Blu-ray release, which contains two different versions of the film – Sorrentino’s original cut, which was shown at Cannes in 2011 (and at the London Film Festival later that year), and the shorter UK Theatrical cut. There’s even a pop-up option that allows you to compare the two versions. The first cut is undoubtedly more sprawling, but the omitted scenes do contain some priceless moments that it would be a shame to miss – including an extended version of David Byrne’s life performance of the title song.
Released on DVD & Blu-ray by Trinity on Monday 13th August.