Guest Movie Review: Papa: Hemingway in Cuba

eliimageBy Eli Sanchez
Guest Contributor
Silver Screen Capture

Bob Yari’s Papa: Hemingway in Cuba (B-) begins with a narrative of Ed Meyers (Givoanni Ribisi) who has lived a life of longing to be an author and over those moments of time, trying his various talents in different areas, including journalism, he has come across the writings of Ernest Hemingway. The story takes us to 1959 when Meyers, now a writer for the Miami Herald, has been holding onto a letter he’s been waiting to send Ernest Hemingway to tell him how much he admired him. He vacillates on it for a bit, but then eventually his girlfriend (Minka Kelly) sends it off, unbeknownst to him. As the film goes on, Hemingway eventually calls Meyers at his office in Miami and identifies himself. Like in most films we see this happening, the character doesn’t believe he’s talking to the real person and it’s a prank; but after a few minutes he realizes he’s talking to Papa himself. The film delivers a sad portrait of the great author towards the end of his life. At first it’s a nice story of a great author welcoming in a budding writer into his fold as his protégé, but quickly, as most families who struggle with addiction find, the end goal is not always the easy one. Sometimes that we find we are addicted to our idols, but our idols are not addicted to their lives, but instead to a surrogate. Ed Meyers’ character represents that aspiring writer in all of us who wishes to meet their idol. In this case, this is based on a true story, and the aspiring writer really did get to meet the author himself. As in so many of these stories, the protégé meets the idol, and the idol is incredibly flawed. Hemingway is played to near perfection by Adrian Spark as he personifies the pugnacious tortured soul of the iconoclast at a time when Hemingway was struggling with depression. There is some alluding to a helicopter crash in Africa that caused a severe head injury that may be the culprit behind this You get the sense that you see two Hemingways at work in this film: The tortured soul fighting depression, impotence and writer’s block, but you also witness the affable, free-spirited Hemingway (the Noble Hero) that was exemplified in much of his work. His mannerisms are similar to a near-retirement prize fighter who has been in the game so long he doesn’t realize he’s a dead man walking. At times, the Great Hemingway comes out with those highest of highs, usually facilitated by excessive alcohol, but then comes the inevitable letdown from not having enough. Whether that’s enough alcohol, moments of elation, or the deluge of words spilling out on the written page that would unblock the dam as it were. Throughout all of this, you witness Hemingway and his fourth marriage to Mary Welsh (played by Joely Richardson) and their complicated relationship. Welsh, a successful journalist in her own right, constantly lives under the shadow of the great Papa. Throughout all of this, she sticks by his side, right through all the near-attempted suicides and the tirades and verbal brow-beatings that ensure during Papa’s birthday party. It’s a hard film to watch, but at the same time beautiful. This is the first film made in Cuba in over 50 years since the Cuban Revolution. Strangely enough, you get the impression that you’re watching it unfold in real time as a lot of those last few days of democracy in Cuba were hard to capture by news crews. Much of the movie takes place in Hemingway’s old home near Havana, and the government gave the film crew permission to film in the historic home (now a museum). Look for a cameo by Mariel Hemingway (Papa’s Granddaughter) at the dinner table during a party in Cuba. Aside from some narrative continuity issues and the second and third acts being stronger than the first, it is recommended.

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I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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Posted in 2016, Eli Sanchez

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