Papi Chulo (2018)

JOHN BUTLER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB/, 2018, , Screenplay by Cinematography by Produced by , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by Toronto International Film Festival 2018.

A California weather reporter named Sean (played with his usual intelligent charm by ) has a breakdown on the air and alarms his bosses; he is determined to power his way through his current emotional issues, dealing with the departure of his partner, but they insist that he needs some time on his own to get himself together.  At home and flush with free time, Sean gets it in his head to repaint his deck, and after a disastrous first attempt at doing it on his own, decides to get help. Having already noticed a group of undocumented labourers waiting outside his local hardware store looking for paid work on a daily basis, he stops to ask about hiring one and immediately chooses Ernesto ().  Older, rounder, with a kind face and speaking not a word of English, the man touches off a connection for Sean that is part of a mystery that we will gradually put together; they return to Sean’s place and what Ernesto sees as a strangely energetic gringo changes up his expectations as a boss.  Prattling on without noticing that Ernesto doesn’t understand him, Sean interrupts the painting to take his charge on boating trips and on walking hikes up mountains and Ernesto is happy to take the money but is also naturally concerned and bewildered.  What writer-director John Butler does with this situation is create something deeply funny and endearing, a lovely bromance in which both characters get to be sympathetic and vulnerable to the strangeness of life’s curveballs.  It’s not a movie about two people from different worlds finding the middle of the road but one in which they face their own fear and pain through a series of increasingly strange and mostly very funny interactions. Determined to make sure he isn’t making yet another white saviour narrative, Butler’s screenplay investigates the trope instead, keeping Sean’s craziest actions very personal and specific and holding him accountable for his most miscalculated deeds, while having Ernesto react to Sean’s overtures with a kind of disapproval that is never cruel.  It’s a wise and witty film that generously displays Bomer’s willingness to make a clown of himself (a scene involving a quinceanera party table is an instant classic) and while Butler never tries to ignore the star’s ridiculous good looks, he rightfully doesn’t rely on them either, facilitating a performance in which Sean’s gentle descent into depression and madness is never ridiculous even when it induces some pretty deep laughs.

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