‘Papa: Hemingway in Cuba’: This biopic gone wrong, directed by Bob Yari, is full of dialogue that sounds like it was ripped from a bad-Hemingway writing contest. 1.5 stars out of 4.
“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” directed by Bob Yari, trumpets itself as the first Hollywood movie to shoot on location in Cuba since the 1959 revolution. It is not, however, the first good Hollywood movie to shoot in Cuba since the 1959 revolution; apparently we’ll have to wait for that.
Based on true events, “Papa” unspools from the point of view of a young Miami journalist named Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi), who writes a fan letter to Hemingway in the late 1950s. (The real journalist, who died in 2006, was named Denne Bart Petitclerc; the film is based on his autobiographical screenplay.) The author (Adrian Sparks) calls Ed up, speaking dialogue that sounds like it was ripped from a bad-Hemingway writing contest (“I got your letter. It’s a good letter”), and invites him to Cuba to go fishing. The men become close; the film is the story of that bond.
It’s also an unintentionally hilarious example of biopic gone wrong. Hemingway and his wife, Mary, (Joely Richardson) speak in the arch tones of radio-play actors (seriously, I kept looking for the microphone) as they bicker, make up and utter dialogue that seems pasted together from scraps in Hemingway’s wastebasket. Guns are dandled, suicide is threatened, fish are caught, unwieldy metaphors (a drowning bee, rescued!) are displayed — and through it all, Yari keeps cutting to shots of typewriters, lest we forget that we’re in the presence of a great writer.
Movie Review ★½
‘Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,’ with Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, Minka Kelly, James Remar. Directed by Bob Yari, from a screenplay by Denne Bart Petitclerc. 106 minutes. Rated R for language, sexuality, some violence and nudity. Several theaters.
Meanwhile, back home in Miami, a beautiful colleague (Minka Kelly) is in love with Ed but he doesn’t notice, as he’s too busy thinking worshipfully of Hem and his advice. (“You have a tendency to underwrite. Which is good.”)
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We don’t even see that much of Cuba. Most of the action takes place at Hemingway’s estate there — the actual house, a vanilla-ice-cream-colored mansion (now a Hemingway museum), which gives a restrained, elegant performance. Pity the rest of the movie doesn’t rise to its standard.