Judge Brett Cullum stops being nice and starts getting real.
"There's sick and there's sick. He had night sweats. I didn't tell anybody. I noticed he was getting more tired, his breathing more labored. There were things here and there. We didn't talk about it on camera."—Judd Winnick on filming The Real World with Pedro Zamora
Every June Gay Pride Month rolls around, and we celebrate important figures in the GLBT community's history. This year Bunim/Murray Productions has decided to honor a cast member of their hit MTV Show The Real World with a biopic penned by Dustin Lance Black (Oscar winning writer of Milk). The subject of the film is Pedro Zamora, a young man who revealed to an entire country that he was stricken with AIDS through the hit reality program. But rather than play the victim, Pedro displayed his grace and good nature even as he lay dying in a bed as his season aired it's final moments. He became a symbol for the country's growing awareness of AIDS, and he was a hero to many struggling GLBT youths. Pedro passed away in 1994, so 2009 commemorates the fifteenth anniversary of his death. In keeping with the spirit of one word biography picture titles we get a DVD with Pedro on it.
Pedro Zamora was an AIDS activist who had appeared before Congress even before he landed on the small screen as part of The Real World. He was born in Cuba, and part of his family came to the United States during the Mariel Boat Lift when he was eight, and he grew up in Miami. He tested positive for HIV when he was only a junior in high school, and committed himself to finishing school and educating others along the way. He was written up in the Wall Street Journal and interviewed on many talk shows before he even decided to audition for MTV's grand experiment in throwing young people together in a house. Oddly enough we see little of all this in the movie, because the narrative seems to make The Real World the most important moments of Zamora's short life.
It seems odd that Pedro focuses most of its running time on documenting Zamora's involvement in a series interested viewers will already have seen. The movie recreates The Real World house on Lombard Street in San Francisco, and we witness actors pretending to be real people on a reality show. That makes everything seem awkward, because the 1994 season and cast were all so memorable. How can you expect actors to try and recreate the real chemistry of Pedro, Puck, Judd, and Pam? We know this story all too well, and Pedro would have you believe that was the defining moments of a man who was a nationally recognized activist long before he was an MTV star. There was more to Pedro Zamora, and I am not sure why capturing that wasn't the goal of the film. Then again this is a film created by the producers of The Real World, so perhaps that is more comfortable for them.
The lead actor in all of this is Alex Loynaz who has been seen in the college dramatic comedy Greek. He does a fine job bringing Pedro to life, but it seems he can't quite capture the sweet simple charisma that was unique to the real person. In the final reels when actual stock footage of Zamora is shown you immediately realize nobody could play this guy since he got to be himself already on TV. Oddly enough two real housemates, Judd and Pam, pass by in a park cameo and again we are reminded that we know these people too well to buy the actors that play them in the film adaptation. The one who really is in the "no win" role is Matt Barr (The House Bunny) who has to play Puck. They all seem smaller than even the television personalities they are playing, and the whole project feels like it is not cinematic in the slightest. This was originally shown on MTV as a movie before they kicked off the Brooklyn season of The Real World, so in essence this is what it feels like—a television film.
The DVD the Verdict was sent was a screener, so there were no extras or anything to evaluate other than the feature itself. The official release contains three episodes from The Real World season that Zamora was in, but I am unsure which ones they have selected at the date of this writing. The feature is close captioned for English audiences. From what I can tell the transfer is fine and lively. It looks brighter than what I would have expected using a comedy hyper color palette even though the subject is a tragic drama. Sound is stereo, and that suits the subject material well.
A more moving tribute to Pedro Zamora was created by MTV in 1994 when they did a special honoring his memory after his untimely passing. Also, if you can track down the graphic novel Judd Winnick produced called Pedro and Me, it is a moving remembrance of Zamora. I'm not sure this movie does much to add to the legend and history of Pedro. Hopefully it will inspire MTV to commit to releasing the entire season of the show from 1994 and the all-too-memorable San Francisco cast. Asking people to play reality stars poses a unique acting challenge, and perhaps we should not ask thespians to do that. What's the true point, when we have actual film of these people to look back on and honor their legacy?
Guilty of not quite living up to its subject, Pedro must be sentenced to Puck's DVD player for the next couple of years on repeat.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
• Real World Episodes
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