Papa Hemingway in Cuba
Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson, Minka Kelly, Shaun Toub
I suspect we will see a lot of new films shot in Cuba when the travel ban between America when communist country is lifted. Papa Hemingway in Cuba certainly wants to capitalize on the Latin American countries resurging popularity in the news. Using “Cuba” in the title, when it could have taken many different variations, is very telling. This film could almost function as a bookend to Richard Attenborough’s In Love & War (1996), which depicted the famous but troubled writer in his early years of torment with war and romance. At least that film had good performances from Sandra Bullock and Chris O’ Donnell. Sparks (The Purge: Anarchy, Insidious Chapter 3) was cast because he looks like Hemingway, not because he is a great actor and this film suffers for it.
Ed Myers (Ribisi) grew up an orphan and it was Ernest Hemingway’s novels that aided his development into manhood. “What to say to the man who changed your life, but never knew you.” Myers worked as a reporter for the Miami Globe in 1957, penning a letter to the world-renowned author who was living in Cuba at the time. He didn’t have the courage to mail it, but his girlfriend and co-worker Debbie (Kelly), does so without asking. It would dramatically change his life, first a phone call from the author, then a fishing trip and soon monthly trips to Hemingway’s residence. Myers became a part of the unique family just as politics, conspiracies and the noted madness of Hemingway all storm the country at once.
Yari can’t find the right rhythm and the film ends up being dull and uneventful despite all the experiences Myers chronicles here.
If you know your history, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in ’62, Hemingway commits suicide in ’61, so 1957 puts us in one of Cuba’s most unsettled time periods. It’s based on the biography of Denne Bart Petitclerc (Ed Myers) who passed away in 2006, but not before penning the screenplay in which he still receives credit. Maybe that’s yet another obvious problem, that another screenwriter should have updated the material. It’s also directed by well-known producer Bob Yari. We have all seen actors transition to directors more often than a producer. The sheer look of the film is great, hard to argue with the aesthetically pleasing visuals of Cuba. Technically from the camera angles, lighting, even the sound (or at least on the version I saw) are cinematically subpar.
The centerpiece of the film builds to Hemingway’s 59th birthday party where he and his wife have a drunken public fight, they discard illegal weapons while being chased by the coast guard and the Cuban mafia reveals exactly why the Hoover’s FBI is so desperate to get dirt on “Papa” as his friends call him. Yet it’s the acting that can’t connect the dots as the entire delivery feels more like a made for television disaster rather than a feature film. Perhaps for those who know little or nothing about Hemingway, beyond studying his novels in classrooms, might find this endeavor more rewarding or at least informational. Yari can’t find the right rhythm and the film ends up being dull and uneventful despite all the experiences Myers chronicles here.
Not even the scenery can sustain much interest in this melodrama.