How do we know we're in Cuba? Blaring salsa music! Shiny cars! Non-white servants who alert white people to danger! Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is NOT historically accurate! It's not even historically considerate. I should have had a sense of what I was in for when I saw the trailer and iconic American novelist Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks) was dodging gunfire in the streets of Havana. That... probably didn't happen?
But still, I wanted to see Papa for Giovanni Ribisi, who plays Ed Myers, a character based on a journalist Hemingway mentored, Denne Bart Petitclerc, who also wrote this film's screenplay. It's important to point out the screenplay is based on one hero-worshiping account because it also explains why so much of Papa is made up of unapologetic lies. For example, within the first 20 minutes, Hemingway pens the famous "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn" short story and hands it to Myers on a signed bar napkin—despite the lack of scholarly agreement whether or not Hemingway even wrote that. Lies!
Joely Richardson, surprisingly, saves much of Papa, playing Hemingway's fourth wife, Mary Welsh. Richardson is clever and brave and hard to look away from, and Hemingway's squashing of Welsh's literary career is both pronounced and presented without cliché (without much thanks to the script). Those scenes are saved by Sparks and Richardson's performances alone.
As contrast, the self-abasement of the apple-cheeked Minka Kelly, as Myers' squeeze, is hard to stomach. Alas, Myers turns out to be pretty hard to like—and my beloved Ribisi slipped so far into character that I was left essentially Ribisi-less.
Despite the film being shot on Ernest Hemingway's historically preserved Cuban estate, and despite the tremendous efforts of the cast, the film can't get past its script—more than anything else, Papa just wallows in the haze of nostalgia.