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In ‘Papa,’ a sentimental recollection of a friendship with Hemingway

Adrian Sparks as Hemingway and Joely Richardson as Mary in “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba.”
Adrian Sparks as Hemingway and Joely Richardson as Mary in “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba.”(Yari Film Group)

Ernest Hemingway has not fared well in adaptions of his life to the screen. Perhaps his self-made myth makes any movie image redundant or unintentionally parodic.

Certainly he has not done well by the efforts of his friend, Denne Bart Petitclerc, a cub reporter (when did reporters stop being “cub”?) who caught the eye of Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) with a mash letter written to him in the late 1950s when the Nobel Prize-winner was living in Cuba with his fourth wife, Mary (Joely Richardson).

Petitclerc, who died in 2006, wrote the long festering script for “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba.” The director is Bob Yari, who is perhaps best known for unsuccessfully suing the Academy over not getting producer credit on the 2005 best picture Oscar-winning “Crash.”

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Petitclerc’s screenplay dramatizes his relationship with Hemingway from his own not-very-interesting point-of-view. At best it demonstrates that whatever Petitclerc (played by Giovanni Ribisi and inexplicably renamed “Ed Myers” in the film) may have learned from Papa, it did not include writing dialogue.

Ed (about his mother): She had another agenda.

Papa: My mother was like that, too. My father killed himself because he couldn’t take it.

On the plus side, this film has the best cars of any movie this year – gorgeous, candy-colored Detroit beauties from the ’50s. Access to mint vintage cars is one of the benefits of being the first Hollywood film shot in Cuba since Castro took over in 1959.

“Papa” recalls another autobiographical film about a crush on an icon of that period – screenwriter Adrian Hodges’s “My Weekend With Marilyn” (2011). Mere Hemingway plays the Monroe role (he even has his own skinny-dipping scene).

Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962 was ruled a suicide, as was Hemingway’s in 1961. Both spawned conspiracy theories. Maybe someone should make a movie about that. Or a decent one about Hemingway himself.

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★ ½
PAPA: HEMINGWAY IN CUBA

Directed by Bob Yari. Written by Denne Bart Petitclerc. Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson, Adrian Sparks, Minka Kelly. At West Newton. 106 minutes. R (language, sexuality, some violence, and nudity).


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.