From the Bronx to the Buddha
is the story of Mike DeStefano or "Mikee D," stand-up
comic, former drug addict and gangster, and AIDS spokesperson,
"survivor." Mike DeStefano is a guy whose face you
might see in a Spike Lee "joint," except with depth.
And itís his sincere depth of character that carries this hour-long
Viewers do not know many Mike
DeStefano-types as the focal point of documentaries. Usually
they are in works of fiction, as shallow tough-guys, Italian-stallions,
and here, there is the real thing. His crass and blunt nature
is sincere and does not appear overdone. Later, however, when
his stand-up and what we are seeing as "real-life"
and behind-the-scenes overlap, the piece becomes somewhat redundant.
Much of the stand-up is race-jokes that you've heard already.
Bronx to the Buddha, at times, seems transparent,
like you know what is going to happen from the onset, but as
it proceeds, it and DeStefano mature.
The most compelling part of the
film is definitely the final half-hour. DeStafano, a long term
non-progresser or LTNP has seemingly triumphed over the AIDS
virus without medication and without treatment. He speaks of
Buddhism assisting in his survival and of his rejuvenated spirit.
I wish that the lives of his
wife and best friend who succumbed to the AIDS virus could have
entered into the piece more, which would have made his triumph
even more extraordinary. There is a too-brief mention of his
wife, herself a drug addict, and it takes too long to get there.
Stylistically, there are a few
scenes with a psychologist that are, at best, campy. The roaming
"man-on-the-street" camera in which DeStefano himself
stars, engaging himself with passerbys in comedic skits are
interesting. It is a unique experience to have the subject of
a biographical documentary take on a role that is clearly more
than just talking head and biographical footnotes; he exists
as a character and as a faux-producer.
Overall, DeStefano is a fascinating,
dominant character. His experiences have warranted his crassness
and searing personality. And his triumphant nature brings the
audience along nicely. He will remind you of so many of your
favorite Italian-American characters- a la Tony Soprano and
the list goes on and on. "Mikee D", as he is called throughout
the piece, is tough and endearing.