Why Haven’t You Seen It: This Must Be The Place


About a year and a half ago, I saw a picture of Sean Penn, taking from the set of this movie, with his giant, jet-black, blow dried, eighties-glam-metal-hair, and I knew, I just KNEW, this would be a movie I would have to see. But then something strange happened. No one talked about it. It got no press. I saw no interviews or sound bytes about it anywhere. Then, one day, my Netflix was suggesting that I would ADORE this movie, and finally, even though little fanfare usually means a sub-par film, I sat down, with no clue as to what I was about to watch, and watched it. And let me tell you, I was blown away.

The problem was if you asked me to explain the movie with one word, I would not be able to. It is a genre hopping film, much like The Last Circus, in the sense that one second may have you laughing out loud, and the next may have you squirming with discomfort. Just like, well, life. And honestly, the always amazing Sean Penn delivers a performance here that is unlike anything you have ever seen him do. Again, I promise not to spoil anything about this movie. I just want to fill you with the urge to see it. Believe me, you will be glad you did.


This is the photo I saw that told me I HAD to see this, whatever THIS was.

This Must Be The Place is a movie about a man named Cheyenne, played by Penn, who is a retired former rock star (this explaining the look) who retires in the wake of a tragedy that affected two if his fans (see, no spoilers), and he suddenly needs to fill the hole in his soul, which seems to be growing at an alarming pace. The way he decides to fill this void is by seeking out the Nazi (now living in America) who tormented his Dad in when his Dad was Auschwitz. See, an odd sell of a story, no doubt. Even in that explanation, it is easy to see this will not be some simple ride. At times, it feels like a character study of this one seemingly bizarre man, who is actually not that bizarre once you get to know him. At other times, it seems a black comedy, playing off how society looks at someone who is seen as “different”. And then, there are some moments when it just feels like a bleak drama, heading down a very dark road. But somehow, even with all that genre hopping, it flows so smoothly you would think it is on rails.


Cool, random fact. The movie is based off a Talking Heads song, and David Byrne from Talking Heads is in the film, as is much of his music.

But that is the beauty of this ride. You take it, blindfolded, and not knowing where it is going, and then when you end up there, you are genuinely surprised (in a good way). But the first thing you need to know about this movie is, it WILL take you about fifteen to thirty minutes to get used to how Penn plays Cheyenne. I know MANY people who shut off the movie within the first fifteen minutes because they find him too strange and jarring, with his meek mannerisms, and mumbling, almost inaudible voice, but I really need to stress, something happens in that first half hour that makes that initial distraction go away. You stop seeing Penn doing a weird impression, and begin to REALLY see Cheyenne. And you find yourself thinking, as you see the way people treat him like shit in society, that YOU almost treated him like shit for the same reason, because he was weird, and had you done that,  you would have missed out on something beautiful. That was a big revelation for me as I watched So This Is The Place.

And again, I want to take a minute to point out that this SHOULD HAVE BEEN as Oscar winning role. I cannot recall the last time someone so utterly convinced me they were someone else on film, Charlize Theron in Monster, perhaps? But Penn disappears, and all you see is this weak, drug addled older man (with some brilliant insight), looking for some kind of peace in his soul, and we take that journey with him. And what a journey it is.


The interactions between these two are amazing, Also, as you can probably tell, the hand ball scene is hilarious.

Another quick shoutout for Frances McDormand as his wife in the film. Though she does not have too much screen time, she is awesomely understated and wholly charming as the woman who just seems to understand this man so well. You cannot help but look at their (simple) love and envy it in certain moments throughout the movie. But also be aware, though it may seem funny and quirky at times, at the heart of this story is a man, looking for the Nazi war criminal, now living in America, alive and free, even after what he done to so many people. I will not tell you what he did to Cheyenne’s Dad, but know, the details of the story will shock you, not for how inhumane they are, but how insignificant they feel in comparison to all the REAL inhumanity that was going on there at the time. But regardless, there is a resolution, and it will stick with you (a favorite line of mine, apparently) for years to come.


Just watching this scene again is so compelling to me, I want to watch the movie again.

Also, regarding the road trip aspect of his journey, he encounters many colorful folks, who impact him and who impacts in different ways, but his interactions with one family in particular is a high point of the movie, showing just how delicate of a soul he is, and just how much that affects those around him in different ways. And even THAT will not play out like you think it will, which is another thing that makes this film remarkable. Don’t pretend you know where any of this is going, because you don’t, and in this case, that is not a bad thing. Give up control for a moment and you will enjoy the ride, I promise.

And I want to give some last minute props to the soundtrack and score of the film. Music plays an integral part of the story in every way, from showing us who Cheyenne was, to showing us his evolution into the person he is becoming, and the music acts as an almost tertiary character throughout, furthering your emotion perfectly, without you even being aware of it.


And amid all the crazy, there are some amazing scenes that are as sweet as buttercream frosting.

Once This Must Be The Place had ended, I sat there in silence, taking it all in. The first question I ask myself after I see a movie I really like is: How would I explain that to someone else, without ruining it? And the thing that came into my mind is So This Must Be The Place is the older person version of Garden State. The man who comes back home, when home no longer feels like home to him, and comes to find out that it is, and always will be, home, no matter the ghosts that live there.

And honestly, why haven’t you seen it?

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  1. I saw this one and I agree that it is beautiful and fun to watch. However, I really did not like the last scene and that emo girl (who, by the way, is Bono’s daughter in real life).

  2. Another movie related in some way to the Talking Heads? Interesting. Have you ever seen True Stories? Look it up if you have not. I am going to check this one out myself.

  3. i agree with kerokan. i thought this film was great fun, but the main character underwent a total personality transformation in the last 5 mins. I would have thought his wife might have had issues with this as she seemed to love his dazed goth personality. He came back from his trip as a totally different person. They never really resolved side story of Cheyenne and the woman who stays inside smoking all the time (it’s been a while, was she a dead friend’s mother?) he just pops up in her street freaking her out that it’s her son returned and then haha! no it’s sean penn! end.

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