Directed by Bob Yari
Written by Denne Bart Petitclerc
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson, Adrian Sparks, and Minka Kelly
“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is a “biographical” drama written by Denne Bart Petitclerc, his relationship with Ernest Hemingway provides the basis for this movie. I say a “biographical” because it is clear that this movie takes a more than a little dramatic license, Giovanni Ribisi who is portraying Petitclerc, plays a character named Ed Myers. Because of the name change what you end up with feels more like a fictional facsimile of the story that “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” was attempting to tell.
The fictional facsimile aspect of this movie was bothersome; I felt like this “true story” maybe was not that true. Dramatic license is one thing, taking a true story and making it a fictional story is another thing altogether. Not that I am an expert on the life of Ernest Hemingway, but this movie gives information I have never seen mentioned. What leads to this was probably the fact that Petitclerc died ten years ago. For ten years this movie has been in production without its primary source, and writer, which likely means that any changes that were made to script or production over the last ten years were done so without the involvement of the primary source.
While the story of the relationship between Petitclerc and Hemingway is a fascinating story and makes a decent film, but it needed something more. Throughout “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” the brewing revolution between Castro and Batista is a present undercurrent. Although, it is never more than a footnote, something that is mentioned and then promptly discarded. Incorporating the revolution as a full subplot to the movie would have added the extra push the movie needed. Castro’s government is, after all, the thing that would see Hemingway eventually leave Cuba. It would have been interesting to see Hemingway’s perspective on the revolution. One of the most interesting parts of the movie was when Hemingway and Petitclerc – portrayed as Myers – discuss the revolution. Myers is even shown writing several stories about the events going on in Cuba. Why was the revolution treated as only a footnote? I cannot say, but incorporating it as a subplot would have made the movie a little more interesting.
“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is not an altogether terrible movie. The highlight of the film is the performance of Adrian Sparks as Ernest Hemingway. His performance is fantastic, and like the performance of Bradley Cooper in “Burnt,” is a causality of the fact that “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is a forgettable film. That is the tragedy of “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” that it is forgettable, neither great nor terrible, just forgettable.
“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is a film that has a standout performance from Adrian Sparks, but suffers from the loss of its primary source. Sure, it was the first American film shot in Cuba in 50 years, but even that cannot save the movie from being forgettable because it could have just as easily been shot with a stand-in for Cuba.