Cheyenne (Sean Penn) was one of the world's biggest rock stars until he decided to pack it all in and live as a semi-recluse in Dublin, where his royalties provide for his financial needs. The reason he left fame behind - though he's still internationally renowned - was because of a double suicide linked to his music where two depressed teenage boys killed themselves listening to it, so now understandably as a Goth rocker he feels he cannot risk returning to that once more and is paranoid about causing more death. He is best friends with one of his biggest Irish fans, Mary (Eve Hewson), but she has troubles of her own...
Her mother being even more of a recluse than Cheyenne is, having lost her brother in mysterious circumstances that even by the end of the movie are not cleared up. That was a problem with director Paolo Sorrentino's style, in that when he wasn't being weird he was being inscrutable, especially as after the premise of the alienated rock star is established, we are then sent headlong into what appears to be the arthouse equivalent of Marathon Man. Well, "sent headlong" is something of an exaggeration, perhaps "trundles inexorably" would be more apt description of the method and pace of the piece which not everyone was going to tolerate.
Most of the publicity concentrated on two things: the leading man and the soundtrack. For the first, Penn consciously transformed himself into a parody of Robert Smith of The Cure with a huge, black nest of a hairdo, pasty makeup, eyeliner and red lipstick, and a tiny, wavering voice which will have you baffled as to what his singing would have sounded like, another question which goes unresolved as we never hear him perform. Who we do hear perform is David Byrne of Talking Heads from whose song the title is drawn; with Will Oldham he formed a band called The Pieces of Shit (also the name of a group in the movie, but not the same one, confusingly) and recorded tunes for the soundtrack.
And as if that was not generous enough, Byrne also showed up to play himself in a couple of scenes as an old showbiz pal of Cheyenne's, inevitably contributing to the determinedly off kilter tone of the work, but not alone in the "what are they doing in an arty Italian movie?" appearances. After about half an hour of following the lead character around his restricted days, which includes visiting the grave of the boys who died and playing unexpectedly energetic handball with his wife Jane (Frances McDormand), he hears from New York that his estranged father is dying and filled with remorse Cheyenne takes the next flight out of Ireland for a reconcliiation. Alas, he's too late, but this triggers in him a need to make up for it in a middle-aged coming of age, if that makes sense.
Which brings us to the Nazi war criminal plot, not the most obvious turn the film could have made, but by this time you're getting almost used to the quirkiness, so when Cheyenne decides to track down the concentration camp guard who tormented his father, it's the cue not for a high octane thriller, but a road movie mixed with eccentric comedy and soul searching drama. This should really have opened up the plot, but if anything it renders it ever more out of reach, so if by this stage you have not adjusted to its singleminded strangeness it's likely you never would. As Cheyenne meets various people along the way, his investigation takes him to Nazi hunter Judd Hirsch, who feels his career is winding down now that his quarries are all dead or about to die, the granddaughter of the man he seeks, Rachel (Kerry Condon) who is desperately lonely until he arrives, not realising his ulterior motives, and is that Harry Dean Stanton giving him his best lead yet? Why yes it is. In spite of the film's awkward nature, it does grow on you, being the sort of thing you'd like a lot - if you like this sort of thing.