Immigration and a gay slur are some of a few English words known by Spanish labourer Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), who comes into a position of employment for Los Angeles weatherman Sean (Matt Bomer) in the 2018 comedy-drama film Papi Chulo.
Initially hired to repaint a deck that is Sean’s last reminder of his ex-partner Carlos, Ernesto is confided in by Sean and taken on a string of awkward dates which he is remunerated for. Papi Chulo is a sincere film that explores friendship, class and isolation in a city known for being vapid and soulless.
Where the likes of Green Book experienced controversy over its approach to sensitive subject matter, the societal marginalisation of Papi Chulo’s main players does not play a burden on the plot and speaks to a progression in film making as well as a message of hope in Trump-era politics.
Sean creating a relationship with a non-English speaking man likely to have had minimal contact with gay men before their arrangement is where Papi Chulo draws much of its humour and does-so to great success (phone calls where Ernesto explains the unusual situations he is experiencing to his wife are a standout).
Bomer and Patino are charming in their respective roles with Bomer delivering on the highs and lows of a man struggling to move past his separation, and Ernesto who becomes the heart of the film as a man living on the fringes of LA that is on the receiving end of Sean’s neurosis.
While able to deliver in the laughter department, some of the dramatic elements feel overly figurative and incompatible with the comedic elements, with later scenes feeling like a rehash of 2011’s Young Adult had the characters been gender-swapped and based in California.
The title Papi Chulo, translating in English as ‘pimp daddy’, has little relevance to the film and speaks more to a filmmaker’s need to get awareness out on a little film that in this reviewer’s opinion, could.
Papi Chulo screened as the Opening Night film of the 2019 Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF). For more information, visit: www.mqff.com.au for details.
Image: Matt Bomer stars in Papi Chulo (supplied)
Review: Hagan Osborne