Providing us with a beautifully composed, directed and performed character study of loneliness and isolation in a city that never sleeps. John Butler’s new film Papi Chulo builds on the success of Handsome Devil (2016) while also providing a unique and refreshing journey. As the love and tenderness of friendship and support are explored in their many forms. While equally exposing the socio-economic and cultural boundaries that often prevent friendships from blossoming.
Sean (Matt Bomer) is a TV weatherman for a local news channel in L.A; struggling emotionally to cope with ending of a recent relationship. His inner turmoil and suppressed emotions finally leading to a breakdown on live TV; placing him on forced gardening leave where his loneliness only continues to grow. However, while struggling to adapt to his new home situation, Sean decides to paint a small area of decking left through the removal of a symbolic tree at his home. Hiring a local tradesman Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) from outside the local hardware store to complete the job.
With Ernesto speaking little English, Sean slowly allows their relationship to grow through activities unrelated to the job he hired Ernesto complete. Gradually building a tender and humorous friendship of convenience. With Ernesto helping alleviate Sean’s loneliness while both men slowly build an understanding of each other’s lives, challenges and needs.
At its heart, Papi Chulo is a buddy film, but in its soul, it’s a multi-layered character study of a gay man on the edge of an emotional breakdown. With Sean finding his own recovery through the company of a man culturally and emotionally different to himself. In effect offering a nuanced discussion on cultural divides, masculinity, friendship and belonging. Wrapped in a city where life jumps from energetic interaction to isolation and loneliness in a heartbeat.
With Bomer’s performance offering us a portrait of a man struggling to overcome a repressed emotional challenge. His outward confidence a mere smokescreen for the bubbling turmoil inside. As he questions his emotions, motivations and place in a city, social circle and career that seemed so perfect. While Patino offers a genuinely stunning portrayal of a man living on the edges of L.As wealthy society, working hard to secure his family in a city of income extremes. While never judging those who sit in alternate positions of financial power.
Meanwhile, Butler never attempts to force his social message on the audience. Allowing the viewer to grow their understanding of the themes present within Papi Chulo; in respect of sexual orientation, class divides and social structures at their own pace. The urban landscape of L.A reflecting the heat and stifling oppression of Sean’s emotional state, as the urgent need for rain reflects the human desire for release. While bright and joyous humour is laced with the sadness of the hurting soul. Creating a perfectly formed film, that tenderly delivers sublime character studies through humour, drama and spirit. Wrapping you in the warmth of its story and performances from the first scene to the last.