Papi Chulo is available to rent, buy and stream.
John Butler’s Papi Chulo is a quiet, emotionally powerful and humorous character study of loneliness, friendship and love. Sean (Matt Bomer) is a TV weatherman for a local channel in LA. But away from his chirpy on-screen persona Sean is an emotional wreck as he tries to come to terms with his new life as a single man after many years of partnership. Like a pot of boiling water about to break out over the sides of the pan, Sean’s emotional state finally overflows live on TV, just as he is talking about the unbearable heat.
As Sean is forced to take gardening leave from work, his loneliness and anxieties continue to grow as he decides to paint a small area of decking left bare after removing a symbolic tree he and his partner once cared for. However, a handyman, Sean is not, and therefore he decides to hire a local tradesman, Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño), from outside the local hardware store to complete the job. But Ernesto is far more than just a handyman to Sean; he is an opportunity for connection, an alleviation of loneliness and a beacon of light in a barren world.
Butler’s movie is dependent on the beautiful yet delicate relationship forged between Bomer and Patino’s characters. Here Bomer’s monologues and enthusiasm are almost childlike as he finds someone who will listen without interjection. He seems oblivious to Patino’s bewilderment and uncertainty due to the language barrier. Yet Patino’s Ernesto also understands that there is pain behind Sean’s smile and endless talking, and it’s here that this unlikely relationship jumps from the screen and into our hearts.
Butler’s conversations on race, sexual orientation and belonging are assured as he explores the intersections between different lived experiences. Ernesto has clearly fought racism, bigotry and hate throughout his life; the American dream a maze of underpaid work, poor housing and uncertainty. Yet he has the one thing Sean is missing, companionship and love. Papi Chulo’s heart may offer us a classic buddy film, but its soul is a complex character study of two men sitting on the fringes of American society; one is a gay man who thought he belonged but is now suffering an emotional breakdown, and the other is an immigrant worker trying to build a better life for his family against a wave of restrictions and oppression. Here Sean finds his path to recovery through Ernesto, and Ernesto finds his internal views of homosexuality challenged and changed by Sean.
In Butler’s hot and humid LA, the sun’s heat reflects Sean’s internal emotions as they bubble and boil under the surface before breaking free. Here beautifully timed comedy is laced with sadness as two men find friendship in the most unlikely circumstances. Far more than just a buddy comedy, Butler’s Papi Chulo is a stunning and heartfelt exploration of friendship, platonic love and healing in a city that never sleeps.