Playwright Miguel Piñero was Nuyorican soul, the embodiment of the geographically displaced Latino looking to find his voice amid unflinching poverty and junkie allure. In Leon Ichaso’s Piñero, Sing-Sing prison time gives way to the free-floating culture groove that helped pave the way for the Nuyorican Poets Café. Gabriel Garcia Marquez can afford his magical realism because he owns his Colombia. Piñero’s poetry, on the other hand, is that of the streets, the refugee Latino looking to own his elusive past. His legacy is everywhere: in rap, hip-hop and the Lower East Side that still wears his soul-tapping aplomb. In Ichaso’s hands, Piñero’s past is retro-reductive—a young Miguel takes his daddy-abandonment issues to the streets, gay sex implied Midnight Cowboy-style. Piñero is difficult to place on the narrative richter scale, no thanks to its film-stock fetish and fractured timeline. Nonetheless, Piñero becomes the cinematic embodiment of the very Nuyorican pulse it heralds. Ichaso free-floats back-and-forth through the writer’s 40 years, from the rooftop dance the young poet shares with his proud Mami (Rita Moreno) to the AIDS hell of the Reagan era. Like Nuyorican poetry, Piñero comes with pretenses: the Empire State Building becomes Ichaso’s syringe signifier while the poet’s racial qualms are those of self-made martyrs. But the vertiginous grit and spirit of Ichaso’s New York City is enough to make Abel Ferrara squirm. Piñero is as lost within his Lower East Side hell as he is in Ichaso’s brokedown Puerto Rico, the elusive homeland where the poet must stringently defend the authenticity of his passion before critical elders. Benjamin Bratt hauntingly embodies Piñero’s boriqua spirit. He’s unrecognizable, lost beneath words that cling to hope and tremble with false bravado. The film’s rhythm is so deftly crude it unwinds like an underground ‘80s cinematic relic. However narratively slipshod, Piñero has passion to burn. Strain your ears and you might just be able to hear the echo of its dead poets.
- Leon Ichaso
- Leon Ichaso
- Benjamin Bratt, Giancarlo Esposito, Talisa Soto, Nelson Vasquez, Michael Irby, Michael Wright, Rita Moreno, Jaime Sánchez, Rome Neal, Mandy Patinkin, Al D. Rodriquez, Tara Wilson
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