Rock n’ roll road movies are ten a penny – and the formula is always more or less the same.
It’s usually something typically along the lines of: washed up rockstar goes through midlife crisis, goes on some kind of predictable but fun journey, then ‘finds himself’.
Well, This Must Be The Place is kind of like that – but is far from predictable and miles from typical.
Rockstars in these movies are usually burnt-out but still larger-than-life demi-Gods, but This Must Be The Place sees Hollywood legend Sean Penn as you’ve never seen him before.
Yes, Penn plays a a 50-year-old retired rocker called Cheyenne, self-exiled in his dusty old mansion, and crippled from being creative by his own personal demons.
It’s safe to say that with giant spidery hair, clad in gothic-black and make-up, that Cheyenne is probably based on The Cure’s Robert Smith – but in this case crossed with Mrs Doubtfire and an old, used teabag. But Penn plays him brilliantly.
There isn’t a moment in the movie when you don’t pity Cheyenne and his naive, tender, vulnerable and child-like ways.
The film is named after a Talking Heads song and even features a cheeky cameo and musical performance from frontman David Byrne himself – probably the most upbeat moment in the movie as it’s pretty bleak from then on.
You see, spidery teabag has a bigger obstacle to overcome than most ageing rockstars – the holocaust.
Faced with the death of his estranged father, Cheyenne travels to America to say his goodbyes.
His father was a holocaust survivor, who spent his every waking moment haunted by the memory of a concentration camp guard who humiliated him in his youth.
And so, in another untypical twist, Cheyenne the anxious, naive, overly-shy, overgrown little boy then takes up the mission to cross America in search of this man.
In short: the nervous old goth becomes a Nazi hunter.
In the process he draws parallels between the suffering of the Jews and his own stunted childhood.
I know, but I did tell you that it would be a weird one.
Along the way, he meets some equally colourful characters, from a profound tattoo artist to an elderly gentleman who claims to have invented the first suitcase on wheels.
The most heartwarming point of the film is when Cheyenne befriends a sweet, widowed waitress and her young son.
It’s the first time you really see Cheyenne connect with someone when he picks up a guitar for the first time in years and he and the boy sing together - a lovely rendition of the title track from the film actually.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
All of this is artfully directed and set along the highways and desserts north of the Mexican border.
It’s a bit tired and cliché but you can’t help but fall for the romance of the all-American scenes on the open road, in the diners and at the truck-stops.
So, if you fancy seeing something that puts a surreal twist on the ‘feel good’ road movie this Spring you know what to do.
Another way in which this film is a little unusual to what you’d expect is that it’s actually a little slow and lifeless for the first quarter or so, but give it time and it will grow on you. Also, where rockstars in these movies usually reconnect with their youth and come back larger than life, This Must Be The Place is all about growing up.
Oh well, better late than never.
By Andrew Trendell
Star rating: HHHH