Go ahead, watch the trailer first. I’ll wait. If you’re a fan of this blog, certainly even the idea of this film existing will appeal to you. But I want you to be as educated as you can be before we jump on in. Ready?
Look, trailers are important. They’re still the go-to piece of marketing collateral studios use to attract audiences. They should sell a film to its intended audience without giving too much of the plot away. Interesting yet mysterious.
That’s for most films anyway. There are certain trailers where pre-existing fan bases expect or demand departures from formula, or where emphasis can be placed not on plot or effect but nostalgia. Think “Star Wars: Force Awakens” when we see Harrison Ford in close-up growling, “Chewy, we’re home.”
This trailer? For a film titled “Papa: Hemingway In Cuba”? It leans to the formulaic. It’s also a heaping mash of dog shit set on fire and left on your doorstep. I wish I could physically punch it in the face.
Hemingway’s life is consumed by myth, and for many that’s the appeal of his cannon. The travel, the lifestyle, the loves. He famously spent many of his later years in Cuba, which is where, if you couldn’t tell by the lovely subtitle, this film is set.
The film is based on the life of the late journalist Denne Bart Petitclerc, who spent some time with Hemingway in the late 50’s and adapted Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream” as a 1977 film. Petitclerc wrote the screenplay for “Papa” before his own death in 2006 and, it seems from the trailer, bastardized history for the sake of his story.
The problem is that this story is not and will never be his. Not when Hemingway is the lead. And not when Hemingway is the whole damn sales pitch.
In the trailer above Petitclerc seems caught up in a political thriller staged around the Cuban Revolution, which Petitclerc covered for more than one news outlet in real life. There’s no evidence that Hemingway was caught up in a mess to that extent, though he was outspokenly pro-Castro at the time.
I watch this and the first thing I think about is 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” the Woody Allen film where Owen Wilson finds a way to transport himself back in time to 1920’s Paris, back when Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and others were getting fucked up and penning classics of American literature. That film worked because it was funny and fable. It was watching a lucky stranger have a drink (or many, many, many drinks) with literary legends.
Watching the “Papa” trailer I feel none of that. I read a headline today that compared it to “Taken,” and I don’t even feel like that does the vibe justice. “Papa” feels more like what was undoubtedly a nuanced, though perhaps boring story, pumped full of steroids and bullshit to fit the more conventional story structure of a film. But of all the Hemingway stories that one might choose to tell, why this?
I don’t know. But it drives a man to drink. I’m sure fans of Papa would understand.
Release Date: April 29