Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson and Adrian Sparks
Directed By: Bob Yari
Running Time: 109 minutes
Yari Film Group
Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
Having to write about Ernest Hemingway is a daunting task, but having to write about “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” is fairly simple task considering how humdrum it is about its biographical choice. So I’m lucky in the sense that I’m going to be telling you about the latter. I’m not lucky in having to admit I’ve never ready anything by Ernest Hemingway or know that much about the Pulitzer Prize winning author, so I can’t refute anything in this movie or speak about Hemingway with any familiarity.
Ed Myers (Ribisi) is a Boston Globe reporter that became infatuated with writing after reading Ernest Hemingway’s (Sparks) works. He’s too timid to write Hemingway a letter, but a co-worker, behind his back, sends off a letter he’s been mulling over for years. Much to Myers’ surprise, Hemingway responds and gladly picks him up in his own boat off the coast of Florida. From there they head off to Cuba to enjoy drinks, laughs and musings.
The movie follows Myers and Hemingway’s relationship over the course of 1959. The problem that arises from the get-go of the movie is that the film never knows how to settle and focus. The movie reflects on Hemingway’s alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, funding and supplying of Cuban rebels, his possible PTSD, his tumultuous marriage, his writer’s block, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Hemingway was known for saying a lot within a few short words. “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” barely say anything in 109 minutes.
The most interesting conflict, at least the bit that the actors chomp at, is Hemingway’s alcoholism and his seemingly toxic marriage with Mary (Richardson). Some of the tensest scenes involve Myers and the Hemingway’s. Their conversation goes from passive aggressive jabs to violent outbursts. Because so much happens within one scene, there’s the unshakeable feeling that “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” may have been better off as a dramatic stage play. The theory is given further credence by presence of Adrian Sparks, a renowned stage actor.
Bob Yari may have not been the man to direct this movie since he only has one other credit to his name. He has produced some magnificent movies, but then he’s credited as the executive producer for the “Agent Cody Banks” movies. My research online yields articles and interviews about how this movie has been in the works for years, but “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” seems like a passion project without any passion.
Yari doesn’t have the director’s touch. So much of “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” feels like a TV movie with a few ‘F’ bombs to spice it up. There are transitions that feel like they should be followed by commercials or a spokesman for PBS asking me to donate money. Even the casual viewer will be able to notice awkward cutting in between scenes. It begs the question if Yari was a simple fill-in.
For all its faults, it’s well acted and has a lot of gripping ideas. For those who don’t know much about Hemingway, this could serve as a bridge to learning more about one of America’s greatest authors. If that’s the case, this movie does serve some importance. For Hemingway fans and those familiar with American literature, they’ll be scratching their heads and wondering if Hemingway is turning and tossing in his grave.