John Butlers Papi Chulo is a beautifully composed, directed and performed character study of loneliness and isolation in a city that never sleeps. Proving that friendship and support can take many forms, crossing socio-economic and cultural boundaries.
Sean (Matt Bomer) is a TV weatherman for a local news channel in L.A, who is struggling emotionally due to a recent relationship ending. After an emotional breakdown on live TV, Sean is placed on gardening leave where his loneliness and segregation continues to grow. Deciding to paint a small area of decking left through the removal of a symbolic tree at his home. Sean hires a local tradesman Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) from outside the local hardware store to complete the job. Speaking little English Ernesto and Sean slowly develop a beautifully humorous and touching friendship of convenience. Ernesto helping alleviate Seans loneliness while both men slowly build understanding of each others 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. There is much to praise in the films effortless and nuanced interface between cultural divides in masculinity, friendship and belonging. Wrapped into a city where life can jump from energetic interaction to isolation and loneliness.
Bomer’s performance matches the multi layered approach of the films direction. Offering us a portrait of a good man on a path of emotional challenges. Sean is never as confident in his own abilities as he appears on the TV screen. Constantly questioning his emotions, motivations and place in his city, social circle and career; Bomer providing a beautiful performance of heart and emotional depth. While Patino offers a truly 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.
Butler never attempts to force social messages onto his audience. Allowing the viewer to grow their own understanding of the themes present within Papi Chulo; in respect of sexual orientation, class divides and social structures. The urban landscape of L.A is beautifully used to full advantage throughout. The oppressive heat of the city and Sean’s emotional state, interlaced with the symbolic emotional release of rain and recovery in a city of extremes.
Humour threads through the film, never allowing it to dive too far into sadness. Maintaining a light and joy in the ability of humans to find those who can support and encourage without judgement.
Papi Chulo is a perfectly formed film, tenderly delivering 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.