A cute bromance takes a steep downturn.
Irish writer-director John Butler follows up Handsome Devil with Papi Chulo (meaning ‘Pimp daddy’, thanks Google), another film featuring an unlikely duo. Themes of internalised male struggle and loneliness are dotted through the film and for a good portion of it is a bittersweet ride however it hits a bumpy road towards the last quarter.
On a scorching day in LA, Sean (Matt Bomer) the weatherman has a breakdown live on television, blubbering but staunchly protesting that he is definitely not crying; apparently his long term relationship with partner Carlos has soured. His boss tells him to go on leave and he reluctantly relents, heading back to his beautiful but empty flat he previously shared with Carlos. He gets rid of the final item they shared, a beautiful blossom tree, but finds the pot leaves an unpainted circle in the middle of his otherwise perfect deck.
Unable to handle DIY himself he picks up quiet, unsuspecting Ernesto (Alejandro Patino) who wants to get to work and earn an honest wage. However Sean, who has ignored everyone’s suggestions of seeking help for his grief, has other plans for Ernesto, using him as a therapist of sorts who has little option but to listen to his new boss’ rambling. Instead of deck painting, Sean takes Ernesto rowing, hiking and to parties and Ernesto is mostly patient, although he calls his wife to express comedic concern at what is happening. Unfortunately, Ernesto’s tolerance only lasts so long and Sean falls further into a spiral, unable to cope with the loss of all his relationships.
Papi Chulo starts off a good note: it’s funny, Sean is sympathetic as a lonely man who struggles to confess his feelings and Ernesto plays the involuntary other half of this odd couple well, even though he is not given too much to work with. It really does work for a good portion, particularly as Bomer and Patino share great chemistry, but when Ernesto is taken away from the double act it begins to fall apart a little as Sean’s character is not strong enough to carry the entire film. His big reveal is also confusing and his multiple meetings with fleeting characters add little to the story and feel repetitive. It becomes less comedy and more drama, but it seems much more successful when it’s lighthearted.
In all credit to Bomer, he brings charisma to a character who becomes increasingly creepy and selfish, but it’s a little unclear as to whether one is meant to sympathise with Sean as his bursts of emotion - timed with pathetic fallacy - are often too melodramatic to take seriously. I suppose, in a roundabout way, it does highlight the importance of communication during grief, a central theme of the film. Maybe it takes doing something crazy, like ruining a random girl’s quinceanera, to make you realise it’s time to get real help.