Friday, November 1, 2019

PAPI CHULO: DVDebut for John Butler's comedy/drama of Latinos and Gringos in L.A.

A movie full of small surprises (and one major surprise), PAPI CHULO is the work of Irish filmmaker John Butler, the fellow who, back in 2016 brought us Handsome Devil and in 2013 The Bachelor Weekend (which I've not yet seen).  His latest film would seem to be his first time working in the USA, and TrustMovies must say that Butler has nicely nailed the peculiarly Los Angeles dynamic involving Latino and Gringos, class and economics, and especially those cliched attitudes that permeate so much of what goes on between the two.

Mr. Butler, shown at right, doesn't so much upend those cliches as he does simply lay them out in front of us (and the characters), simultaneously revealing their silliness. This is a smart way to handle a tricky subject, and the filmmaker manages it throughout the entire film, often leaving a smile on our faces, even as we wince in recognition.

The plot pf Papi Chulo has to do with Sean, a gay L.A. TV weather reporter suffering from a break-up with a longtime lover, from whom he is having a very difficult time separating. To complete the painting of his deck, Sean hires an older Hispanic laborer, Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño, below, right), who is waiting in one of those pools of men seen on the sidewalks of L.A., New York and now probably in most cities throughout the country, hoping to find work.  Slowly, haltingly and often humorously, a kind of bond begins to form between the two.

Sean is played by Matt Bomer (shown above, left, and below), an "out" gay actor who has often played gay roles, including an excellent representation of a trans woman in Anything. This role, however, seems to me different in some important ways because the character of Sean is so sad, silly and needy, often simultaneously, that he is as funny and charming as he is unhappy and sometimes even obnoxious.

Mr. Bomer is actually quite extraordinary in the role, so alternately loose and easy, frightened and protective is the actor that he makes Sean into one of the most vulnerable of gay characters I have seen on screen. He is also enormously funny, as he tries every which way to connect to his new friend. Mr. Butler's delicious dialog, coming from the mouth of Bomer, often sounds utterly spontaneous, and all the better for it.

How the movie, along with relationship of the two men, progresses comprises the simple plot, which takes quite a turn midway. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense but it may still throw you -- the way the certainty of an assumption proven wrong often does.

As complete and "out there" as the character of Sean is, Ernesto's appears quite the opposite. Guarded and near completely unable to demonstrate affection, he is a good example of Hispanic machismo, non-toxic variety, in which those signs of love must be shown via his wife and children. Señor Patiño imbues his character with clear-headedness and a quiet grace that is believable and touching.

As in Handsome Devil, Butler allows in sentiment without letting it gush into sentimentality. You'll be charmed, surprised, entertained and/or moved by just about everything here, without feeling ill-used the following morning. Think of it as a guilt-free pleasure.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running 98 minutes, Papi Chulo hits the street on DVD  this coming Tuesday, November 5 -- for purchase or rental.

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