Reflections on class, ethnicity, and companionship add depth to this film
From the beginning of Papi Chulo, the protagonist, Sean, is a sympathetic character. When the television news weather forecaster cries live on camera, you are immediately drawn into his life, wondering what is making him so uncontrollably sad.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Matt Bomer (Golden Globe winner featured in Magic Mike, The Normal Heart, and other stage and large and small screen performances) whose deep blue eyes, warm smile, defined body, and overall good looks are likely attractive to most viewers. But it’s the movie’s sweet charm that captivates you.
You’re also in for some surprises in Papi Chulo, but one of them is not the fact that he’s now living alone in the house overlooking Los Angeles that he once shared with Carlos. That’s because Sean’s loneliness is the basis of the movie and the reason he befriends day laborer Ernesto (played by stage, film, and T.V. actor Alejandro Patiño) first to paint his deck, but eventually to be his companion. The two develop an unexpected but profound friendship. It is well played by the two leads who express restraint as the characters they portray gradually become closer.
While Sean at first seems crazy, Ernesto learns that it’s something else when he explains: “I bet you think I’m crazy. (‘Un poco,’ says Ernesto.) I’m not really crazy. I’m going through a rough patch. My ex has been gone for six months now. Since then, I’ve been in this state that I can’t seem to move beyond, and I can’t seem to stop making it worse.”
A surprise twist succeeds in its unexpectedness. It is followed by flashbacks that feel unexplained. Comedic one-liners throughout balance Sean’s sorrow, such as when he describes hiking as “walking for no reason up a hill.”
Set in contemporary L.A., this dark comedy is filled with reminders of its locale—songs on the radio (“It Never Rains In Southern California” and “Ain’t Nobody Straight in L.A.”), constant announcements on news radio that L.A. is in the middle of an extensive drought (until it’s not at a pivotal moment in the film), and panoramic vistas of the valley from the hills. Sean describes L.A. as haunted: “Layer after layer of sadness settling into the city like sedimentary rock.”
Reflections on class, ethnicity, and companionship throughout the film add depth to this tragicomedy, while all the supporting characters’ empathy to Sean’s plight lightens things up.
Everyone is just so nice to Sean. Perhaps it is that support that offers him what he needs to climb out of his pit of despair. Even his hookup attempt has advice for him: “I have wasted a lot of time trying to find someone to fix something that was broken inside of me. No one else can make you happy, Sean.”
Just as nice to Sean as everyone else in the film is Sean’s boss, played by Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs, Reno 911, Bridesmaids). She’s the one who gives him the time off that frees him to meet Ernesto.
Now on DVD, Papi Chulo was written and directed by John Butler (Handsome Devil), premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, and was then released in select theaters on June 7, 2019.
DVD available on Amazon.com