Film & TV

Sean Penn Astonishing as Ex-Pop Star in "This Must Be the Place"

Google "Danzig shopping for cat supplies" and you'll find links to phone-cam shots of former Misfits singer Glenn Danzig crossing a grocery-store parking lot while wearing a Danzig T-shirt and carrying Fresh Step. The shots are humbling and humanizing. In scenes perhaps inspired by those photos, retired musician Cheyenne (Sean Penn), the subject of Paolo Sorrentino's This Must Be the Place, wanders through a Dublin grocery store in his Robert Smith hair and makeup, dressed in black from head to toe, peering over the tops of his old-man reading glasses. A huge pop star in the '80s, Cheyenne retired following a tragedy, now living quietly and enjoying a meaningful and playful marriage to Jane (Frances McDormand). Penn plays Cheyenne with childlike fragility, delivering dialogue with a tremulous, understated affect that belies the flamboyance of his appearance. He often disappears into the shadows of dimly lit bars, gargoylish and physically closed. Penn is astonishing, creating a funny, guileless waif, infusing a faded celebrity figure with tactility and humor. When his estranged father, a Holocaust survivor, passes away in New York, Cheyenne returns home for the funeral. His father's diaries document a fruitless, decades-long search for a prison-camp guard. To heal that estrangement, Cheyenne follows the clues in the journal across the United States in a dreamlike pursuit of his father's tormentor.

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Chris Packham is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.