“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” Review – Hollywood’s Havana Horror


Jordan Hoffman (The Guardian) reviews Bob Yari’s Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, the first Hollywood production to shoot in Cuba since 1959, referring to the feature film as a “mortifying embarrassment.” As you can see by the review’s subtitle, “Hollywood’s Havana horror,” Hoffman is not impressed and blames what he calls a “hopelessly tone-deaf script.” Here are excerpts:

Papa is another biopic-through-the-lens of a young acolyte, similar to the recent debacle Nina, though this time its screenplay was written by the witness himself. Giovanni Ribisi is Ed Myers (name changed from the late Denne Bart Petitclerc), a newspaperman in Miami in the late 1950s. Abandoned by his father at a young age, as we’re told through lugubrious narration, he turned to the books of Ernest Hemingway while looking for a father figure. He writes an impassioned note to Hemingway and one day he receives a phone call. “I got your letter. It’s a good letter,” Adrian Sparks’s Hemingway tells him, as if he didn’t see the parody of Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris – or, worse, he did see it and used that as a guide. “You like to fish?”

With that, Ribisi is off to Cuba to dive for pearls of wisdom and mentorship. He gets that, but is also witness to Papa bickering with his put-upon fourth wife, Mary (Joely Richardson), as he violently rants about creative and sexual impotence. The bearded, larger-than-life writer is a raconteur at dinner, but rages at blank pages at other times, and stares forlornly at prominently placed firearms, which are practically winking at the camera

Director Bob Yari, a veteran producer directing for the first time in 25 years and releasing the picture through his Yari Releasing Group distribution arm, may have snipped through miles of cinta roja to get to Cuba, but he fails to do anything interesting once there. There’s one brisk montage of Havana street life and a few scenes aboard Papa’s famous fishing boat the Pilar, but most of the time we’re stuck inside Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia. [. . .]

Much of the blame lies with Petitclerc’s hopelessly tone-deaf script. When we first meet Papa, he’s in full Zorba the Greek mode, an exuberant older man bursting with a love of life, but this quickly turns to the tired routine of the dark genius. After witnessing some of the guerrilla fighting, Papa takes his new pupil to a bar and offers this bit of sage wisdom: “God, damn war!” [. . .]


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