You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Papa: Hemingway in Cuba’

A sincere but formulaic biopic, enhanced by Adrian Sparks' performance as the legendary author.

Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson, Adrian Sparks, Minka Kelly, Shaun Toub, James Remar, Anthony Molinari.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2749282/

Despite its obvious sincerity of purpose, and the cachet of its having been filmed on locations where the real-life drama actually unfolded, “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is disappointingly plodding and ham-fistedly obvious in its attempts to offer an up-close and personal portrait of a mood-swinging, self-loathing 59-year-old Ernest Hemingway. The movie — reportedly the first US production filmed in Havana in more than five decades — is based on an autobiographical screenplay by the late Denne Bart Petitclerc, who was befriended by the legendary author in 1959, and witnessed Hemingway at his most charismatic and least excusable. But “Papa” never transcends the tropes of a formulaic biopic that views its famous subject through the eyes of a worshipful young devotee.

Ticketbuyers may be lured by the somewhat misleading TV spots that make this rare directorial effort by veteran producer Bob Yari (“Crash”) look like an action-adventure set against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution. But the most receptive audience for “Papa” likely will be Hemingway aficionados who already know enough about the man, his works and his loves that when Mary Hemingway (Joely Richardson), the author’s wife, does a spirited imitation of Marlene Dietrich — well, they’ll know, even though the film never mentions it, that it is Marlene Dietrich she is mimicking.

Giovanni Ribisi plays Ed Myers, Petitclerc’s autobiographical alter ego, a Miami newspaper reporter who’s been looking for a father figure since his parents abandoned him during the Great Depression. When he writes an adulatory letter to Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) to thank the author for inspiring him during his hard-scrabble salad days, he’s amazed when his hero responds with an invitation to visit him in Cuba.

One trip leads to another, and a friendship gradually forms. Initially, Myers feels privileged to hang out with Ernest and Mary Hemingway at their Finca La Vigia home 10 miles east of Havana. He nods in syncopathic approval each time his hero drops a life lesson into their conversations (“The only value we have as human beings are the risks we’re willing to take”). And he feels he’s been accepted into an inner circle when he’s encouraged to address Hemingway as “Papa,” a nickname used only by the author’s intimates.

Unfortunately, the longer he’s around Papa, the more frequently Myers sees Hemingway’s dark side: the drunken rages, the angry quarrels with Mary, the suicidal self-loathing fueled by impotence and writer’s block (which Papa views as synonymous). A bad situation only gets worse as Myers starts to cover clashes between government forces and Castro-led rebels, then discovers J. Edgar Hoover has reasons to hate Hemingway other than Papa’s support of the revolution.

Adrian Sparks (who previously played Hemingway on stage in John deGroot’s one-man play “Papa”) is physically and emotionally credible as the author, especially during his swaggeringly robust moments. But Yari undercuts his performance by repeatedly underscoring the obvious with extended views of Hemingway taunted by the blank pages in his typewriter, and portentously fingering a loaded pistol.

Ribisi looks a tad long in the tooth to be fully believable as a character frequently referred to as “Kid,” but he hits the right notes while playing an acolyte who learns unpleasant truths about his mentor. Richardson neatly balances love and support with fear and anger in her effective portrayal of Mary Hemingway, while James Remar effortlessly steals his single scene as a Havana-based Mafioso who improbably enjoys Hemingway’s literary oeuvre. But Minka Kelly is hard-pressed to make much of her thinly written role as Meyers’ compassionate, if not infinitely patient, sweetheart.

Production values and on-location filming enhance the period flavor of “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba.” (The scenes inside the Hemingways’ home were filmed at the real Finca La Vigia, which has been restored as a museum.) Trouble is, that only makes the movie’s frequent hokeyness all the more distracting.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Papa: Hemingway in Cuba'

Reviewed online, Houston, April 25, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: A Yari Film Group release of a Magenta Light production in association with Sunstone Film Productions, Odyssey Media Inc. Produced by Amanda Harvey, Bob Yari, Weezie Melancon, Michael Pacino. Executive producers, William J. Immerman, Kirk Shaw. Co-producer, Wanda Petitclerc.

Crew: Directed by Bob Yari. Screenplay, Denne Bart Petitclerc. Camera (color), Ernesto Melara; editor, Glen Scantlebury; music, Mark Isham; music supervisors, Michelle Silverman, Don Peake; production designer, Aramis Balebona Recio; art director, Erick Grass; set decorator, Pepe Amat; costume designer, Jane Anderson; sound, Russell Edwards, Peter Kepkay; assistant director, Alejandro Valbuena; casting, Libia Batista, Odalys Garcia.

With: Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson, Adrian Sparks, Minka Kelly, Shaun Toub, James Remar, Anthony Molinari.

More Film

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content