×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Toronto Film Review: ‘Papi Chulo’

John Butler's engaging dramedy pivots on the improbable friendship between an Anglo TV weatherman and a Mexican day laborer in L.A.

Director:
John Butler
With:
Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez, Wendi McLendon-Covey. (English, Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 38 minutes

In “Papi Chulo,” a scrupulously low-key and unassumingly ingratiating dramedy about the friendship forged between a thirtysomething Anglo TV weatherman and a middle-aged Mexican migrant day laborer, Irish-born writer-director John Butler (“The Stag,” “Handsome Devil”) turns an outsider’s eye to the dynamics of interrelationships that cross socioeconomic divides in L.A., and makes it clear, without hammering home his point too insistently, that one can intelligently and entertainingly illuminate universal verities about basic human needs by focusing on specific details of place, class, and sexual orientation.

Sean, played with an admirable fearlessness by Matt Bomer, is the weatherman, a usually chipper professional who has an on-camera meltdown — something more than a crying jag, but not quite a cry of anguish — while forecasting another day of hellish heat in and around L.A. Ordered to take a sabbatical by a news director (Wendi McLendon-Covey, milking a brief, thinly written role for all it’s worth) who’s worried about tarnishing the station’s “brand,” Sean finds himself with too much time on his hands in the home he used to share with his departed lover (whose departure, of course, is the cause of his frazzled mental state).

Eager to paint over the spot on his deck where he and his gone-away companion once positioned a potted tree, Sean hires more or less at random Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), one of the men seeking work, any work, outside a hardware store. Sean speaks little Spanish, and Ernesto speaks only slightly more English, but they communicate efficiently enough for Ernesto to at least begin the painting job.

And then things get a tad more complicated.

Right from the start, Sean tries — maybe too insistently, maybe even presumptuously, but he tries — to make Ernesto feel at ease and respected by treating him as an equal. By the second day Ernesto is on Sean’s daily payroll, however, the weatherman is bringing the day laborer on excursions away from the work site — hiking in the hills here, row-boating on a lake there — mostly so Sean has someone to talk to. (Never mind that Ernesto understands only bits and pieces of what he says.)

Fairly early on, Ernesto recognizes that Sean is gay. This isn’t off-putting for Ernesto, who is hardly your standard-issue homophobe, but it’s slightly unsettling, especially when Linda (Elena Campbell-Martinez), his wife, only half-jokingly observes that her husband might be playing the Julia Roberts role in a “Pretty Woman” scenario. (It should be noted that “Papi Chulo” could be translated as slang for a pimp.) For his part, Sean bristles when another character makes another movie-inspired comparison (to “Driving Miss Daisy”) after observing his day on the lake with Ernesto. In his mind, he’s treating Ernesto with uncondescending dignity — as, though he’s not quite yet willing to use the word, a friend. But, again, things can get complicated. And signals can be misconstrued.

Butler animates “Papi Chulo” with such a generosity of spirit that, except for a few other day laborers who express their machismo with snark, only one fleetingly glimpsed minor character comes across as irredeemably unpleasant. And, to be fair, that unpleasantness is necessary to trigger a key scene in which Bomer conveys such naked vulnerability as Sean that it’s easy to accept how readily Ernesto and Linda both might think better about the poor guy.

“Papi Chulo” is the kind of movie that seems even better in retrospect because, when you replay it in your mind, you better realize the many ways it could have turned silly or simplistic, and appreciate how nimbly it avoided the pitfalls. Even while you’re watching it, you can be impressed by scenes that bring out the best in both Bomer and Patiño. At one point, as the two men are more than a little drunk and being driven to their respective homes after a party, Sean and Ernesto start singing and swaying to Madonna’s “Borderline.” There is a moment when this stops being a scene, and just is. And in that moment, “Papi Chulo” sneaks up on you and seals the deal: It’s not going where you might expect, or even want, it to go, but you will believe it when it gets there.

Toronto Film Review: 'Papi Chulo'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 8, 2018. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Ireland) A Treasure Entertainment production. (Int'l sales: Bankside Films, U.K.) Producers: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole. Executive producers: Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Jo Henriquez, Hilary Davis, Stephen Kelliher, Dearbhla Regan.

Crew: Director, writer: John Butler. Camera (color): Cathal Watters. Editor: John O’Connor. Music: John McPhillips.

With: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez, Wendi McLendon-Covey. (English, Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Aracne

    Chile’s Sanfic, Mexico’s Morbido Fest Pact to Promote Latino Horror (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexican horror festival Morbido and Chile’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) have agreed on a long-term collaboration intended to strengthen the genre film industry in Chile and across Latin America. This partnership will see Morbido representatives attend the Sanfic industry section each year to aid in the promotion of horror projects and advise those projects [...]

  • Tom Holland'Spider-Man: Homecoming' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Tom Holland Addresses Spider-Man’s Studio Divorce at D23: ‘I Love You 3000’

    British actor Tom Holland showed face on the main stage at D23 on Saturday, in the thick of an ugly studio battle over the rights to his iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. Headlines have been rolling in for days about the contentious battle for the cinematic future of the hero, after Sony Pictures became unwilling to [...]

  • Soul Movie

    Pixar's 'Soul' Announces Voice Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey to Star

    Disney debuted a first look at upcoming Pixar film “Soul” at the D23 expo in Anaheim, Calif. and announced its star-studded voice cast. “Soul” imagines that every person on earth comes pre-installed with a soul formed and perfected in a cosmic realm. Jamie Foxx will play a middle-school music teacher on earth who dreams of [...]

  • Emma Stone Variety Actors on Actors

    First Look at Emma Stone in Disney's Live-Action 'Cruella' Drops

    Emma Stone’s Cruella de Vil is significantly more punk rock than her animated counterpart. Stone appeared via video message to debut the first look of the titular character in Disney’s “Cruella” at D23 on Saturday, also revealing that it will take place in the punk rock era of the 1970s. In the first photo, Stone [...]

  • ‘Mulan’ Star Skips D23 Press Amid

    'Mulan' Star Crystal Yifei Liu Skips D23 Amid International Controversy

    Crystal Yifei Liu, the star of Disney’s live action remake of “Mulan,” skipped the press line and Disney panel at Disney’s D23 expo Saturday in the heat of the #BoycottMulan controversy. Unlike the other portions of the Saturday Disney panel, which featured both stars and directors for the other films presented, the “Mulan” panel was [...]

  • Marvel Stars Want Tom Holland's Spider-Man

    Marvel Stars Want to Keep Tom Holland's Spider-Man in the MCU

    Marvel fans aren’t the only ones heartbroken that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man might not be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore. “It really is sad. First off, he’s the greatest Spider-Man to me. He actually has that youthful energy,” Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Scarlet Witch in the MCU, told Variety at D23 on Friday. “He’s been [...]

  • Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' Star Kit Harington Joins 'The Eternals'

    Jon Snow is leaving the North. “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington is joining the cast of “The Eternals” as Dane Whitman, also known as the Black Knight, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced Saturday on the main stage at D23. Feige also confirmed Gemma Chan’s appearance in the film as Sersi, another member of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content