Boy, this is something of a trend isn’t it; releasing a movie that comes out of thin air? It’s kind of annoying, but that’s a complaint I will reserve for my Facebook posts.
In any case, I had no idea what to expect from this movie. And because I’m uncultured swine, I have no idea who Ernest Hemingway is. Famous rich white guy. Gee, really narrows it down, doesn’t it? Oh, and he was referenced in a Brad Paisley song and he was maybe a writer. Yeah, I need to get out more. But, I am an avid fan of Giovanni Ribisi and it sure is refreshing to see him do drama as opposed to his comedy that’s been hit or miss for him in recent years. But this film, I gotta say, looked pretty solid. It also looked like it would get overblown in the end, but hey, hard to talk shit about a movie that I haven’t seen. In any case, I went in with no real expectations. My hope was that Ribisi would be great because he has been great before. In any case, this is my honest opinion of PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA.
For most of Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) life, he’s been an admirer of the famed writer, Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks). This is because Ed was abandoned as a child by his father and Hemingway’s books were always of comfort to him. Fast forward to the present in 1959, Ed works as a reporter and has been working on writing to Hemingway about what the man’s work meant to him, but could never find the right words. His latest attempt grabs the attention of his co-worker and girlfriend Debbie (Minka Kelly), whom sends the letter to Hemingway. Eventually, Ed gets a phone call at work by the man himself and is invited to go fishing with him in Cuba, to which Ed accepts the invitation and thanks Debbie for getting this ball rolling. At first, Ed and Hemingway hit it off really well, and is even invited into his home where he meets his loving wife, Mary (Joely Richardson). But as time passes and he gets to know the man more, he becomes privy to his paranoia about the government trying to take him out and his suicidal tendencies.
Having no idea what to expect out of a story like this, I have to say that I enjoyed this film quite a bit.
First and foremost, Ribisi churns out a pretty solid performance. The character Ed is a man who has serious commitment issues because he doesn’t know how to give love to Debbie as he feels he’s never felt it before from his parents. Hemingway becomes his father figure in a lot of ways. This leads him to want to spend more time with him, to listen to whatever he has to say about anything and learn whatever he can, which eventually leads him to blowing off plans with Debbie a lot. Ribisi’s performance oozes with vulnerability that it’s hard not to feel something for the guy, even when he’s being unfair to Debbie. He loves Debbie, but Hemingway became the father he never had, which is a relationship he wants to explore, even if he doesn’t know it.
Kelly does very well too, even if she isn’t a big or have the biggest impact on the story as a whole. Debbie’s a fair character that understands this new and exciting element in Ed’s life and allows him to explore his feelings for his long time hero. And when his relationship with Hemingway begins to interfere with his relationship with her, she begins to think that he’s no longer interested in being with her. You can’t disagree with her because he does seem to blatantly blow her off as he spends more time with the Hemingways. So when she challenges him about his feelings toward her, he doesn’t have a satisfying response and understandably ends their relationship. This might be the best performance I’ve seen Kelly give, which may not be saying a lot considering that I’ve probably only seen the worst her career has offered.
But now it’s time to talk about the two star attractions that were worth the time alone, Sparks and definitely Richardson, whom I will rave about in a minute.
First, Sparks. Why isn’t this man more famous? I’m looking at his IMDb page and he just has a bunch of bit parts in a shit-load of TV shows over the course of his career, or movies that no one’s heard of. His portrayal of Ernest is fantastic. He’s insightful, angry, and depressed. He’s a kind and gentle man. He’s a stone-cold drunken bastard. It really is hard to categorize him on any side of the “good or bad guy” fence. He’s too nuanced and interesting to be that cruel. There’s this continuous theme of him standing in front of his typewriter but being unable to write anything. It’s obvious that the man wants to, he’s portrayed as an amazing writer with deep and personal opinions. But being surrounded by Cuba’s hellish conflict, his constant drinking complementing his bad temper, fueling his paranoia about the American government out to get him, it’s easy to label him as crazy, which may not be far from the truth. But you do see a man who just wants to be happy with his life and not be the way he is, doing the things he does and occasionally treating people as horribly as he does.
It’s also something of a tragedy when he takes his anger out on probably my favorite character of the movie, Mary. Richardson owns this role and movie. She brings out some serious intensity as the woman who has to constantly fight her husband over so many things, it’s hard to keep up with it all. His depression, his paranoia, him taking his frustrations out on her by yelling at her, belittling her, even hitting her. When she gets hurt or cries, you really feel bad for her and there’s this great connection that the audience has with her over any other character. Her pain is more painful, her happiness is more satisfying, and her frustrations are more relatable. Yet somehow she’s still a loving wife who supports his endeavors, still goes out of her way to make any birthday feel extraordinary, maintains her composure and love for this otherwise deeply disturbed man. I was in love with Richardson’s performance; she made this movie for me.
I suppose if there’s any nitpick that I’d have, it’d be that none of Hemingway’s problems really tie into each other; too self-contained to be a flowing single narrative. Hemingway is suicidal. Alright, well what does that have to do with his paranoia of the government? And what does that have to do with this past relationship with this woman that keeps getting referenced? And what does this have to do with his best friend having… cancer, was it? None of this really ties together and almost feels episodic. While this movie is pretty damn good, I feel like it might have worked better as a TV mini series, or something, considering how episodic these problems of his feel. But honestly, these are really just nitpicks.
Overall, I really liked the movie. It’s very character driven and many of the core performances are phenomenal, especially from Sparks and Richardson. The problems that Hemingway faces certainly feel disjointed, but that’s probably something you’d really have to look for.
My honest rating: a strong 4/5
- MOTHER’S DAY