BFI London Film Festival: Papi Chulo

Papi Chulo
Papi Chulo
Directed by John Butler
Starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño
Screening at LFF October 12th, 13th and 20th

by Joanna Orland

Matt Bomer stars in this tragicomedy about a TV weatherman in the midst of an emotional breakdown after the end of his relationship with an older Latino man. While on gardening leave from work, Sean (Bomer) hires an older Latino migrant worker, Ernesto, to help him paint his deck. The job evolves into the likes of going on hikes together, taking boat rides, and going to parties as Sean uses Ernesto first as an unwitting therapist, then as a friend, and ultimately as a stand-in for his lost lover.

The first half of Papi Chulo is absolutely brilliant and best watched in a cinema. The cringe-worthy comedy, even in the face of emotional tragedy, is a delight to watch amongst a gasping, horrified audience. Matt Bomer gives an amazing performance, with perfect comedic delivery, as a self-obsessed man in the midst of a breakdown, using his hired help as an emotional outlet. Alejandro Patiño too is excellent as Ernesto as he navigates his daily work routine and budding friendship with Sean. The two have wonderful chemistry and their relationship is genuinely touching.

The second half of Papi Chulo sadly strays from the initial genius. Trying to be too clever for its own good, the film offers a mild, unnecessary, twist that detracts from the emotional arc that comes before it. I believe director John Butler must’ve made the choice to delay this reveal as to have the earlier comedy be unhindered without anything too sad in the mix. But by adding this emotional information so late in the film, the good faith he’s built up in the first half feels negated, and the second half just feels overpowered by its tragic turn. The pacing of emotional narrative isn’t balanced well in Papi Chulo, which is a shame as it starts off so promising.

The first half is beautifully awkward, the second overshadowed by its wannabe cleverness; Papi Chulo is both a hit and a miss. Luckily, the first half, the performances and the relationship between Sean and Ernesto are all strong enough to be able to forgive its missteps.


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