Bob Yari’s film Papa: Hemingway In Cuba has received a great deal of press for its authenticity. It is the first Hollywood film shot in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, even utilizing Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia (which is now a museum).
The location shots are striking, and so is Adrian Sparks’ performance as Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, the story as told does not do either of them justice.
Denne Bart Petitclerc wrote the autobiographical script prior to his death in 2006. He created a fictional alter ego named Ed Meyers, played by Giovanni Ribisi in the film. Meyers is a young reporter for the Miami Herald in the late 1950s.
Abandoned by his father at a young age, Meyers has taken Hemingway as a literary and personal role model. He writes a fan letter to his idol. To Meyers’ amazement, Hemingway calls him. Next thing you know, Meyers is Hemingway’s houseguest in Cuba.
Meyers finds himself virtually adopted by Hemingway and his wife Mary (Joely Richardson). The naïve Meyers gets a crash-course in manhood and journalism, Hemingway style. He also gets to witness Papa at some of his worst moments- being cruel to Mary, suffering through writer’s block and impotence, threatening to shoot himself.
All the exotic locales and Sparks’ uncanny resemblance to Hemingway (well-rendered by cinematographer Ernesto Melara) seem wasted on such a formulaic story. The script gives us a laundry list of personal and political issues affecting Hemingway, primarily through mediocre dialogue. (Example; “The only value we have as human beings are the risks we’re willing to take.”) We are led to think the situation inspires Meyers, which grows increasingly difficult to believe.
This theme, young man given life lessons by famous man he idolizes, is not a new one in film. Two films, My Favorite Year and Me And Orson Welles (this week’s companion film), handle it much more effectively. Both films give full-spectrum portraits of their larger-than-life characters-pluses, minuses, and points between. Papa: Hemingway In Cuba seems to proceed from the assumption that you are already a fan of the man. It makes the film heavy going in places.
Even so, good performances will keep you involved with Papa: Hemingway In Cuba far longer than you might expect. Sparks, who starred in a 2005 one-man show called Papa, is definitely reason to see this film. He receives strong support from Ribisi and, especially, from Richardson.
But if you are more a fan of Hemingway the writer than Hemingway the man, I am inclined to recommend a copy of The Old Man And The Sea instead.
Theme: Creative Mentors
Related Posts: Film Appreciation: Me And Orson Welles http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-me-and-orson-welles/
Creative Mentors: List For Week Ending May 1, 2016 http://www.thinkingcinema.com/creative-mentors-list-for-week-ending-may-1-2016/