What You Missed
Cheyenne (Penn) is a middle-aged rock star living in Dublin with his firefighter wife (Frances McDormand). He's still famous enough that MTV begs him to appear at the Video Music Awards, but he hasn't played since a couple of teens were inspired by his music to commit suicide.
When he hears his estranged father is on his deathbed, Cheyenne returns home to New York. His dad is dead, but one of his cronies, an elderly Nazi hunter (Judd Hirsch), gives Cheyenne a mission: Hunt down the extremely elderly Nazi who tortured his dad at Auschwitz.
This necessitates a road trip into middle America and meetings with lots of quirky characters — one played by Harry Dean Stanton. David Byrne pops up at one point, too — how could he not? — and sings the title song.
Why You Missed It
Widest U.S. release: 15 theaters. Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo) directed this Euro-financed piece of weirdness, which provoked some guffaws at Cannes and did not interest Oscar voters. Now on Netflix Instant, home video, etc.
Should You Keep Missing It?
I probably should have hated this movie. It's so damned quirky! In a vaguely feel-good way! It's packed with odd characters and moments that feel random and digressive, and a lot of things (especially about Cheyenne's relationships with people in Dublin) are just plain unclear.
But I liked it! (With reservations, especially about the ending.)
A couple reasons why:
The direction: creatively in your face. Showy and tasteless, some might say. Most scenes open with a shot that makes you ask, "What? Why? Where are we now? What?"
The supporting characters and throwaway bits: They're often hilarious, regardless of how you feel about the main plot arc. (With the Nazi business, I think Sorrentino bit off more than he could chew.)
Sean Penn ... WTF? What is he doing with this role? All I can say is that he's one of the oddest presences I've seen in film for a while.
He wears the wig and makeup nonstop and pairs them with a quavery little voice that sounds like Michael Jackson mixed up with Maggie Smith (at a tea party, perhaps). It should be a stunt, yet it feels weirdly authentic. Cheyenne has a melancholy delicacy as he whispers lines like "Have you noticed how nobody works anymore and everybody does something artistic?" He looks like a middle American's goth nightmare, yet wins over everyone he meets with his utter lack of pretense and childlike vulnerability.
This script has a lot of memorable quotes, mostly from the protagonist. My favorite is his reaction to the invitation to the VMAs, though I can't remember whether he plaintively asks, "What is Lady Gaga...?" or "Why is Lady Gaga...?" Either makes sense.
Who knows what Penn was thinking? Maybe he thought Cheyenne would take off with art-house audiences like Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow did with the masses and become a cultural icon. All I can say is, he should have, because he's kind of awesome. This character makes us remember that before all the awards and the histrionics, Penn was Spicoli, and it was beautiful.
Verdict: Hate? Love? Laugh out loud? However you react, this isn't just another quirky indie flick.
In Theaters This Week
Prisoners, which garnered good reviews at the Toronto Film Festival. A dance movie with Josh Holloway of "Lost"! The pretty cool comedy In a World... comes to the Palace 9 (here's my review).
On Video This Week
The Bling Ring, The East, World War Z.