John Butler’s Papi Chulo is a shrill and insipid spectacle of cross-cultural communion, but don’t call it stupid, as that would suggest that it doesn’t know exactly what it’s doing. For one, “papi chulo” is pointedly never spoken in the film, which traces the emotional breakdown of a TV weatherman, Sean (Matt Bomer), reeling from a recent breakup and who desperately strikes up a friendship with a Latino migrant, Ernesto (Alejandro Patiño). “A vicious circle,” says Sean, describing the unpainted…
At the root of the film is an essentially conservative belief that non-white, low-income communities are prone to self-destruction. On the other hand, El Chicano is wise to frame its vigilante justice as a response to the lack of response by those outside of such communities. Either way, the film peddles notions of self-realization and self-actualization that might have felt less moth-eaten had Ben Hernandez Bray’s direction lent them mythic grandeur.
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"Exhilarating," "astounding," and "electrifying" reads the quotes on the film's poster, from agents of our culture of mean. Okay, I'll give it "electrifying." Miles Teller is a mean drummer, or maybe it's the jazzy cutting that tricks one into thinking so, but the implausible scenario is pretty low-down in how it tries to milk suspense from an unbridled spectacle of human cruelty. Not even sure Damien Chazelle believes his paltry justification for J.K. Simmons's worse-than-Gordon-Ramsay shtick. Maybe someone needs to throw a director's chair at his head so we can see if he's capable of drumming up a "Casablanca."
Do not miss this great film when it comes to a theater at a major metropolis near you at the end of the month. It has its imperfections, but they pale in significance to its elegiac sense of will. After what happened yesterday in Paris, and especially for those confused about the ties between Islam and terrorism or operating under the mistaken belief that Charlie Hebdo's provocations weren't necessary, the film's searing, lucid depiction of innocents rightfully, righteously fighting fundamentalism from within will grip you in horrified empathy.