Film Review – Papi Chulo
Papi Chulo strikes me as an odd title for a film, but its meaning, “attractive man” or “ladies’ man” in Latin-American slang, makes sense in a couple of different ways by the end of it. Although the Irish money backing this film gave me pause that I was watching the right film. It is an odd film, certainly not the one I expected to see from its trailer.
Papi Chulo, written and directed by John Butler, is set in Los Angeles, California. A television weatherman, Sean (Matt Bomer), proceeds to have an emotional breakdown on live television as he talks about the Santa Ana winds. Given his instability, Sean is put on leave to deal with whatever turmoil he has going on in his life. The audience comes to find out that his boyfriend has left, an older man named Carlos, with whom Sean shared a home. While getting rid of a large tree in a planter from his deck, Sean realizes Carlos painted around the tree and not under it. Thus, begins the spark for Papi Chulo. Through self-professed ignorance of what kind of work this would take to get rid of an unpainted circle on the deck, Sean hires one of the Mexican (American) workers standing outside the hardware store to help. Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) is an unassuming, quiet, respectful man who seems bewildered by the niceness of Sean. The job ends up being about Sean needing someone to talk to, even though Ernesto barely understands English. An unconventional friendship develops between the two men.
I wanted Papi Chulo to be about a friendship between two men who would ordinarily never meet or speak to each other. While this kind of friendship is what initially transpires between Sean and Ernesto, it is much more about the heartache of Sean. Dealing with the loss of a partner, Sean is slowly falling apart. I believe the film starts six months after the end of Sean and Carlos’ relationship. It is not revealed until later that Ernesto bears a mild resemblance to Carlos. This reason may be why Sean picked him out in the first place, or maybe it is how Ernesto stood back from the other laborers, not clamoring for the job. There are subtle hints that while yes, Sean needed help with his deck, he was also in search of someone to talk to, even subconsciously. Ernesto filled a void, even if it was only for a few days. Sean is heartbroken again when he can’t find Ernesto, throwing himself into an emotional breakdown again, one with more severe consequences.
While the friendship between Sean and Ernesto is what is highlighted in its trailer and poster, it is much more a film about Sean dealing with loss. Ernesto is therapy to Sean, someone who will listen and not understand anything. He’s mostly a stand-in for a therapist, but one that never offers any advice. Sean cares about Ernesto, but Ernesto is more confused about this “loco gringo.” To put it plainly, Sean is a mess, and Ernesto is the temporary glue holding him together. I had higher hopes for Papi Chulo than it being an emotional journey for Sean with a side of Ernesto. Both Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño felt perfect for their roles, Bomer a perfectly coifed LA weatherman and Alejandro weathered and hesitant as a day laborer. Both worked well together on screen, providing quite a few laughs as this gay man is toting around Ernesto as a new found friend.