2 Sep 2020

At the Movies: Papi Chulo

From At The Movies, 7:33 pm on 2 September 2020

Papi Chulo is a comedy-drama about the relationship between a stressed-out TV weatherman and a middle-aged Mexican odd-job man. It's a delightful film with a uniquely light touch, Simon Morris says.

Simon Morris: There seems a wide disconnect between the title - indeed the whole movie - Papi Chulo, and the person making it.

"Papi Chulo" - yes I did look it up because the phrase never appears in the film - literally means "pimp daddy", which is actually a compliment, especially in gay Latino circles.

But the film is the work of an Irishman - writer-director John Butler, who made a sweet little movie a while back called Handsome Devil, set in an Irish school and boasting more than one sharply written line.

So what's a nice Irish writer doing in Los Angeles telling the story of a TV weatherman - he is called Sean, mind you - who has a terrible and very public meltdown on primetime?

Sean - played by TV star Matt Bomer - has just undergone a big breakup with his significant other, Carlos. And all those months of holding it in have led to this.

His hard-nosed bosses don't want to fire him exactly. But they don't want him around right now either.

Reluctantly Sean goes home to his mansion up in the Hollywood Hills, where he sells the last remaining item of furniture that he and Carlos bought together.

It's a tree out on the deck, that leaves a noticeable, round, paint-free area. He can't wait to pass this on to Carlos's answerphone.

Papi Chulo is a film with a remarkable sense of place. Maybe only an Irishman would notice details like the coyotes' lonesome howls up in the canyons at night. Or the endless conversations with mechanical voices, whether it's answer-phones or the voice of the internet, Siri.

Or the very LA queue of Mexican odd-job men, patiently waiting outside hardware stores for work.

Which is where Sean meets Ernesto, a stolid, middle-aged father of five, who agrees to paint out the patch on Sean's deck.

Ernesto speaks next to no English. Sean may claim to speak no Spanish, but you can't live in LA - and have a boyfriend called Carlos - without picking up quite a few words.

Ernesto makes a start on the "more than one-day" job, while Sean potters about the big, empty mansion, filling in time.

And since his time is mostly made up of someone else in the house, Sean's pottering turns into sharing lunch with Ernesto, then taking him off for a trip to a lake or a hike up the hills. And of course, endless chat.

The irony, you'd think, is that Ernesto hardly understands a word Sean is saying. But sometimes the details of the conversation aren't that important.

Ernesto picks up enough about Sean's situation from his own friends - Sean is, after all, a celebrity, and his meltdown was news all over LA.

And Sean finds himself increasingly dependent on his monosyllabic handyman. Which makes it particularly distressing when one day Ernesto takes time off from his job.

Can Sean handle the sudden hole in his routine?

It's fascinating for a non-Angeleno how entwined the two communities are - the wealthy Anglos and the thousands of Latino workers that they rely on.

The story of Sean and Ernesto is surely not an uncommon one in Los Angeles, but I've seldom seen it told before.

Writer-director John Butler is an unusual film-maker, telling stories - often from a gay perspective - that resolutely refuse to go where you're expecting.

Particularly a story that calls itself "Pimp daddy"!

Papi Chulo is delightful - the sort of film that would grace any film festival, with a uniquely light touch.

It describes itself as a "comedy about loneliness", which is really Irish for a film about humanity.

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