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Non-Review Review: Papi Chulo

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Papi Chulo has a very narrow line to walk.

At its core, Papi Chulo is a very old-fashioned opposites-ultimately-attract buddy comedy. In keeping with the conventions of the genre, the central duo crosses racial and class divides. It is the story of a burnt-out Los Angeles weatherman who hires a Mexican day labourer to (ostensibly) paint his patio deck. Despite the fact that the two are from very different worlds and literally speak different languages, an unlikely bond develops between the two. This is a fairly standard set-up, and an old feel-good Hollywood standard. Indeed, Green Book employed the formula to considerable awards-season success, demonstrating that the template endures.

Peak happiness.

As such, Papi Chulo comes a fascinating premise, but a loaded one. Indeed, the Green Book comparison is something of a double-edged sword. The decision to position an immigrant day labourer as one half of the mismatched couple at the centre of Papi Chulo gives the movie a lot of political weight in the current cultural climate. It would be impossible for a movie about an unlikely friendship between a white man and a Mexican in modern California that crosses class divides not to resonate with everything else happening in the world around it. In fact, given the popularity of this sort of template for exploring issues of race and class in America, it is surprising that there have been so few movies along these lines. It is also surprising that this movie comes from an Irish director.

To be fair to Papi Chulo, the movie always seems aware of how deeply awkward it is for a rich white person to hire a day labourer to (in effect) be his friend. That power imbalance and privilege is always lurking off-screen, and the film is never particularly ambiguous in its assessment of Sean’s behaviour; the weatherman is not working through his issues in a healthy way, but imposing himself on Ernesto. However, these issues never come to the fore, and are only fleetingly acknowledged over the course of the film. This works well enough when the film can count on the unlikely chemistry between Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patino to carry the first half of the film, but it doesn’t really work when the film makes a conscious choice to separate the duo in the second half.

Snap chat.

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Non-Review Review: Handsome Devil

Handsome Devil is a charming coming of age tale set against the backdrop of a South Dublin Rugby School.

The film follows loner and outcast Ned, who finds himself shunned at boarding school because he lacks the ability and interest to play rugby. Ned keeps to himself, even isolated from the other boys via his private room. However, Ned’s world is thrown into upheaval when the school receives a new student. Suddenly, Ned finds himself sharing the space with Conor, a promising young rugby prospect who might have the capacity to lead the team into the finals.

Seaing red.

The plot beats and themes in Handsome Devil are fairly standard, keeping very much consistent with the genre of coming of age secondary school tales; the notion of self and identity play into, juxtaposed with the urge towards conformity. There are inspiring teachers and tough decisions, eroding cynicism and brutal betrayal. Handsome Devil is aware of these expectations, to the point that all of this is laid out in the exposition-driven framing device at the start of the film.

However, Handsome Devil is elevated by a sense of genuine warmth beneath this very familiar exterior. The script is well-observed, and the direction is light enough to let a charming cast play well off one another. Like Ned, Handsome Devil is nowhere near as cynical as it appears, and it plays best when it drops the wry irony in favour of an endearing humanism.

That’s grass.

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Immatürity for Charity, Tonight, 9.30pm, RTÉ 2

Christmas is often the time to indulge your inner child, so Immatürity for Charity seems perfectly suited for a post-holiday comedic treat. I had the pleasure of checking out a preview of it last week, and it is deliciously juvenile. It is, as the title suggests, a decidedly low-brow comedy sketch show, the kind of thing that could easily grate if it weren’t handled with the right amount of skill and enthusiasm. Luckily, writer (and star) Domhnall Glesson and director John Butler have done an outstanding job. Not all the sketches included are absolutely pitch-perfect, but the beauty of sketch comedy is that if you don’t like what you’re watching, well… another will be along shortly.

Domhnall Gleeson - IFC

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