Papi Chulo: Cool and Hot in L.A., by Sarah Brinks
According to Google translate, Papi Chulo means “Pimp daddy” in Spanish. However, Urban Dictionary would lead me to believe is means something closer to, “cool or hot daddy.” My obvious lack of fluency in Spanish puts me in good company with the lead character of the film. Matt Bomer plays Sean, a recently-single weatherman in L.A. who has breakdown on air. When forced to take mandatory leave, Sean finds a project in repainting his deck. It doesn’t take him long to realize he is in over his head, so he hires a Mexican immigrant named Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño) to come and help him. Sean speaks a little Spanish and Ernesto speaks a little English, but Sean feels an immediate kinship with Ernesto. Instead of seeking the professional help he really needs, Sean confides in Ernesto and begins to feel better.
Based on the description of the film, you can probably guess at most of the major plot points, and the film isn’t bad or boring, just a bit predictable. It does tackle some common tropes well-tread by similar films – Sean becomes a better man for knowing Ernesto, but he gets there by hitting rock bottom first. If you think there isn’t a scene when Sean and Ernesto sing Madonna’s “Borderline” in the backseat of a Lyft, you are wrong.
Ernesto realizes quickly that Sean is desperate for company and feels some guilt in taking his money for going on hikes and to parties, but he also needs to provide for his family. His wife, Linda, also has the pulse of the situation immediately and tries to council Ernesto. Their dynamic and healthy, loving marriage provides a lovely counterbalance to the single and devastated state Sean is in. Ernesto is a pretty cool guy and is a dedicated father making the translation of Papi Chulo to “cool or hot daddy” make sense. Sean is attracted to older, Hispanic men and is clearly looking for someone to fill the void left by his partner Carlos. Sean and Ernesto spend a great deal of the film together and their dynamic is fun to watch. Sean is energetic and sincere while Ernesto is awkward but kind.
The film is surprisingly funny at times, especially when Ernesto is put into awkward situations. Patiño plays a fish-out-of-water wonderfully and with a quick facial expression or flick of his eyes is able to express his feelings without a word. One of the funniest scenes is when Sean takes Ernesto to a party at his friend’s house. All the guests are gay men and Ernesto is greeted by the host with a kiss on the mouth. Not sure what to do he calls his wife and tells her a strange man just kissed him on the lips. She advises him to have a drink and try to have fun. The conversations Ernesto has with his wife Linda (played by Elena Campbell-Martinez) over the phone when he is with Sean are the funniest parts of the film and help build out Ernesto as a character.
The film is set in Los Angeles and during the Santa Ana winds. The changing weather and Sean’s changing life is an easy metaphor that film drops fairly early. It also drops the idea that LA is experiencing record breaking heat quickly. Sean walks around LA in shorts and a light hoodie but always look perfectly quaffed and pristine. I would have like to have seen the film use the weather to better use and really establish how uncomfortable everything feels when it is over one hundred degrees out.
Sean lives in a gorgeous house in the L.A. hills. The view from his balcony is commented on by every person who comes to the house. He is, however, isolated by the house. He is separated from everyone who cared about him and rambling around a big house all by himself. Without work to distract him, he becomes further isolated. The film uses the beautiful backdrop to reinforce how sad and sometimes ugly Sean’s life has become. Having Ernesto around creates the false sense of cohabitation that Sean is desperate for.
Overall the film is beautiful to look at but not very deep. Sean is able to move forward thanks to his friendship with Ernesto and Ernesto learns a little more thanks to his friendship with Sean. I think the film is worth watching for some of the great work that Patiño does, but beyond that it is pretty standard fare.