Tio Papi (Rojas, 2013)

Tio Papi (Rojas, 2013) September 6, 2013


Tio Papi, overall, surpasses most of the Christian movies on the market.  The competence of the movie, in terms of its cinematography and acting, mitigate the fact that it is now $10  for a good quality family film.  Another of the movie’s incentives is the appearance of Kelly McGillis (whom my dear advisor Dr. Morefield reminds me was ‘that girl’ in TopGun.), as well as Elizabeth Rodriguez for those day-time TV fans of both Law & Order, and All My Children. While the film expresses enough comedy to rouse a few laughs from the younger crowd, older audiences may catch onto the “scripted” feel of Tio Papi.

For better or worse, the story-line is straight-forward.  The writers, Joey Dedio, and Brian Herskowitz, go to great lengths not to leave any questions unanswered… Why not allow the reason for Rae Rae and Cheeky’s break-up to be a secret?  Why not reveal that he didn’t want children AFTER he was given children–throw a little twist into the plot.  Complicate the story a bit…?

Well, said I, that is the beauty of the story: there are no plot twists, there are no unanswered questions, or “what-ifs.”   The story’s beauty is that the issues are clearly presented such that a younger audience will easily understand the tough dilemmas facing Tio Papi.

The movie begins very much like a Save the Last Dance, Fly Away Home, or Raising Helen wherein children lose their parents in unspeakable accidents and are then raised by relatives.  Rae Rae Dominguez, a Man who doesn’t want kids, must, unceremoniously, add six children into his busy bachelor life, after their parents, his brother, are killed in a car crash.  Although it seems this tale has been told, Tio Papi,  gives us a fresh twist:  the number of roles in which Hispanic Americans are cast as “responsible caretaker” though increasing, is fairly new.  Too often in film, Hispanic Americans, whether a result of the screenplay or casting, are thuggies, druggies, and illegal immigrants.

If we’re going to bring up race, however, there is a nagging problem.  It wasn’t until the end of the film, specifically the court-room scene, that I noticed there was a slight… I hesitate to say “bias,” but discrepancy in the film. Why are all the villainous roles filled with Caucasian Americans? The social worker, whose role it is to keep the children from their uncle, is a white woman (Kelly McGillis). The prosecuting attorney representing the state is a white male (Jack Noseworthy). At first I thought this merely a coincidence, too broad to be substantiated, yet upon a second viewing of the movie I also noted those roles marked to be disliked, contemptuous, or malicious are also filled with Caucasian Americans (e.g. the high school principal, and overweight teacher—Mrs. Butts.) If the casting director’s agenda wasn’t to intentionally place white Americans in antagonistic roles, then I think it was a (careless) oversight.

But I don’t think the movie’s intention is to denigrate the status of white Americans. Truly I think the point of the movie is to acknowledge those in society who unassumingly assume tough roles, and at the same time bring positive attention to a few Hispanic Americans in the film industry.

The movie brings to the forefront of its discussion a few big, ethical questions, the first of which is answered for him: “Will I keep my sister’s children?” Next comes “What is more important—my dreams or my family?” then “Will I take unmarked cash and keep it (if no one would know), or do I return it?”

The family’s religious affiliation is intimated in instance’s such as when he crosses himself, or when he lights a candle for his deceased sister and brother-in-law.  Religion, though not overtly stated, seemingly guides many of Rae Rae’s decisions.  For instance, in a scene between Senor Dominguez and Cheeky, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez (whose expert acting moves the movie along considerably), during which the two discuss, in an intense, adult manner, Mr. Dominguez’s ensuing dilemma— providing for the children, versus providing himself the life he wanted to live.  In the background of the scene, fully visible, there is a picture of Jesus.  The mise-en-scene of the scene suggests that Rae Rae will ultimately make decisions in accordance with what Christ would want him to do–or the ethics of WWJD.

Despite the one misgiving about racial stereotyping, I thought Tio Papi was a good family film. It carefully balances posing big questions posed to little people, which gives it that ability to serve as a pathway between parents and children. I can realistically envision the post-movie car-ride in which parents ask their children “Did Senor Dominguez do the right thing?” or “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose the right thing to do?” In the end the movie does what much of its target audience wants or expects– teach society the value of moral behavior.

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