"Road to nowhere " carped critics, slapping the title of another Talking Heads song on this off-beam US travelogue from Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino (the Il Divo director here making his English-language bow).
Missing the point much?
Road movies, after all, aren’t about destination. They’re about fleeting epiphanies, the surreal sights and sounds that Sorrentino serves with relish in his wonky but often wondrous free-roamer.
And they don’t come much more wonky/ wondrous than Sean Penn’s Cheyenne, a shock-haired and droll goth-rock imp visiting America (from Ireland) for his estranged dad’s funeral.
Penn could have gone pantomime but instead he finds Cheyenne’s heart, digging under the surface slap to anchor artifice in a performance that’s warm, wry and natural. Sorrentino revels in such fertile contrasts: Penn/Cheyenne, artificial/natural.
It’s there in his European eye on America, an outsider view echoing Herzog and Wenders.
And it’s there in his comic handling of heavy themes such as Cheyenne’s anguish (over two fans’ suicides) and pursuit of a Nazi war criminal, a potentially jarring plot point made smooth by Sorrentino’s flair for juxtapositions. What does jar is the ending, its resolution too rote for a fable defined by its digressions.
The disparate episodes are what make This Must Be The Place sing: Sorrentino lenses cameos involving Harry Dean Stanton, David Byrne and a buffalo with a vibrancy that makes us see cinema anew through the mascara’d eyes of a raddled rocker viewing the world as if for the first time.
That open-ended willingness to be surprised by cinema and life makes this off-piste fable, at its best and in Byrne’s words, a road to paradise.
Come along and take that ride…