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Piñero (Leon Ichaso) 2001 

While watching Leon Ichaso’s Piñero, I was reminded of a moment from Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (if not the best, probably the most hilarious portrait of a writer on film) in which a woman describes his character’s reckless lifestyle as nothing but “nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm.” Allen’s film eviscerated its lead character for justifying such a self-indulgent life in the name of creating art, but Piñero absolutely seems to indulge the same rationalizations in its main character. The film, which is shot in an overeager documentary style (think purgatory as a Final Cut Pro workshop…), attempts to consolidate the life of Puerto Rican, bisexual, ex-con, actor-playwright Miguel Piñero (Benjamin Bratt) in terms that an uneducated white man like me can understand. I’m not familiar with the guy’s work but judging from the film, it seems he mostly wrote rap songs without music, episodes of Kojak, and a play that makes the one Nick Nolte stages in Weeds look good. I’m not sure that it’s the film’s intent, but the guy’s oeuvre ends up looking like it was acclaimed more because he was such a multi-hyphenate and a group of bleeding hearts liked that his talent was fostered by the prison system’s writing program and less because he actually wrote well. I can appreciate that Piñero was Puerto Rican, but at the same time, I don’t see how that outweighs his apparent lack of literary contribution. 

The bulk of the film can’t be bothered to actually expose the audience to Piñero’s work, however. Most of the running time is spent watching a parade of debauchery as the film puts forth the absurd suggestion that Piñero had to live like a junkie to write like a junkie. Though his lifestyle makes the film livelier than it might have been otherwise, it hardly seems the sort of behavior to admire or pontificate about. The filmmaking itself is a big miscalculation, since the vérité styling and the lack of clear thematic or narrative drives make much of the film play like an extended actor’s exercise. The problem with this is that the dialogue is obviously tightly scripted, so most of the spontaneity that the visuals of the film create is killed. Many of the performances are passable, but the least developed one seems to belong to Bratt who, like Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon, seems to have focused more on understanding the body language and vocal intonations of his idol than his perspective. Though there are a few scenes that generate real energy, ultimately Piñero feels self-congratulatory. At one point, the lead character says that he feels a new wave of Latino talent is about to arrive, and the film seems to think take that sentiment to heart. Certainly in front of and behind the camera there is a preponderance of said talent, but one would wish that the end result of their labors, which is an obvious effort of love, would be better. 



Jeremy Heilman