Papi Chulo movie review: can’t buy him love

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Papi Chulo yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

An uncomfortably clueless portrait of societal privilege taking advantage of financial desperation. Matt Bomer is very effective as a man truly heartbroken, though.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Los Angeles TV meteorologist Sean (Matt Bomer: The Magnificent Seven) has a bit of a breakdown on air and is ordered to take some time off. But apparently work has been the only thing keeping him together in the wake of some sort of personal disaster — a nasty romantic breakup, or so we gather from accumulating clues — because he falls further down a depressive rabbit hole when he hires migrant day laborer Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño: Iron Man 2) to do some handyman work around his house but ends up appropriating the poor man’s time and attention in a sort of pseudo-therapeutic faux friendship. Ernesto barely speaks English, and Sean speaks no Spanish, so Sean is literally using Ernesto as a warm, human-shaped sounding board; there’s no conversation here, merely Sean untangling his own neuroses by talking at another person… a person Sean chose for reasons that, we later learn, have some unpleasant connotations.

Bomer is very effective as a man truly heartbroken and lost, but there is something deeply disconcerting in writer-director John Butler’s obliviousness to the inequities of the relationship he hopes to craft as earnest and honest, yet which is only an uncomfortably clueless portrait of societal privilege taking advantage of financial desperation. (Butler is Irish, and this is in fact an Irish production. There is little sense of LA, either geographically or culturally, here.) If the film evinced any awareness of the disparities in precarity and security, emotional and economic, between Sean and Ernesto, maybe even tried to compare and contrast them, that might be something. But Papi Chulo wants to charm us with the “connection” between these two men. At this it fails.

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