My take on Thunder Road and Papi Chulo

I love the way this film shows up how the constraints of convention and normalcy are so  damaging to the psyche. Jim Cummings wrote, directed and stars in this cracker of a film about a Texan cop, Jim Arnaud, lost in grief after the death of his mother. Following his divorce he’s desperate to gain at least shared custody of his small daughter but attempts to overcome his pain and guilt bring him further to a certain brink of instability. The court decides against awarding him any sort of custody.

Thunder Road is, of course, a song by Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics comprise an invitation to take a road trip, take a risk, since the dreams you thought you held dear have probably not materialised. The road trip could be metaphor for a last shot at a relationship. In any case, it was Jim’s mum’s favourite song. He wants to play it at her funeral but technology fails him. Instead, he dances.

Thunder Road

Jim Cummings and Kendal Farr in Thunder Road

Is Texas one of those places where it’s illegal to hang washing outside? I believe that in some parts of Texas it’s illegal NOT to own a gun. Jim’s part of Texas is a place where unconventional behaviour like dancing at your mother’s funeral is treated with deep suspicion and misunderstanding. Jim tries to conform to traditional male ways of thinking and behaving, including hauling a young woman out of a car where she’s making out with a couple of guys. His inadequacies when it comes to dealing with his emotions lead him to the threat of violence bordering on actual violence. Will he get to be the hero of his own life? Jim is a rescuer but can he save himself?

Masculinity fails men, and without any sort of preaching, this film makes that point clear.

Similar themes are explored in the very feel-good, very adorable film Papi Chulo, which opened the Melbourne Queer Film Festival last month. Papi Chulo explores the isolation of a man grieving the loss of his lover. Both films, while exploring the interior world of a man bereft, show how social norms so deeply inhibit our attempts to be true to ourselves.  Westerners are not, men especially, well-resourced to navigate experiences of loss. Both films enjoy refreshingly original humour and stand as odes to imperfection. Neither film gives its male protagonist a deep or affecting connection with women; so what saves men? Themselves, and other men, along with creative self-expression.

Highly recommend both movies. See them if you can. 

Papi Chulo

Alejandro Patino and Matt Bomer in Papi Chulo

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