Papi Chulo is a new dramedy film written and directed by John Butler and starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño. The movie is about a lonely weatherman who, suffering from depression, forms an unusual relationship with a Latino migrant worker. It debuted at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
This film’s story ultimately boils down to a relatively conventional buddy comedy, but it is done in a way that feels so different and unusual that it really works. There are a few moments that go into Driving Miss Daisy territory, but for the most part, the movie’s positive intentions are actually delivered upon.
Part of the reason the film works so well is that the protagonist is a very complex and nuanced character. It will be hard not to feel bad for Sean and root for him to get better. Although you will likely find yourself frustrated with some of his actions, this makes the character feel all the more real and approachable. On the other hand, Ernesto is a more archetypal and less complex character, although not offensively so.
The movie has a ton of heart as a result of the effective character development and story. The best parts of the film are those in which we see the two leads interacting and Sean growing from his experiences. Again, this definitely falls within some of the more borderline-racist tropes in the book, but the movie does it in a way that feels natural and not too over-the-top.
There is also a good deal of humor in the film, although it is nowhere near as consistently effective as the heartwarming moments. Some of the humor does feel mildly insensitive, and those are the unfunny jokes. However, when the movie goes for something more wholesome, it will be enough to make you smile and maybe even laugh out loud.
The most impressive part of the film is definitely the ensemble. Bomer and Patiño have great chemistry together despite the language barrier their characters have on-screen. They are able to handle both the comedic and the emotional moments with ease, both together and on their own. Bomer proves his ability to lead a movie with his turn, so hopefully he will continue to get more roles like this.
On a technical level, the film is pretty simple, but effective given that the movie is a comedy. Some of the cinematography in the film is excellent, with the composition of the frame being used often to create funny situations. The lighting is quite good as well, not having some of the oversaturation issues typical of comedies like this.
Overall, Papi Chulo was an enjoyable dramedy. Although it does have its fair share of issues, it does accomplish its goals in its short runtime and has some great performances to boot.
Papi Chulo opens in theaters on June 7.