Worth A Look: 24%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%
5 reviews, 45 user ratings
|Raising Victor Vargas
by Collin Souter
There’s a moment in “Raising Victor Vargas” where the film’s titular hero buys a toy figure that pops out of a gumball machine for the woman he has fallen in love with. It’s a small action figure that happens to be in a wheelchair. “This dude is in a wheelchair,” she says with slight disappointment. “No,” he says. “This is one of the good guys. This is a dude on wheels.” The scene says a lot about how people view Victor Vargas, an Hispanic teenager living in New York’s Lower East Side, and how Victor sees himself in terms of his relationship to women. Emotionally handicapped, but sure of himself nonetheless. It’s all in the way you look at things, I guess.“Raising Victor Vargas” tells the story of Victor (Victor Rasuk) and his family, which consists of himself, his teenage younger brother Nino (real-life brother Silvestre Rasuk), their pre-teen half-sister Vicki (Melonie Diaz) and their ever-watchful and protective Grandma (Altagracia Guzman) and how each one’s coming of age brings chaos and disorder to the family unit. Or at least, that’s how Grandma sees it. Directed by first-timer Peter Sollett, the movie has a fresh, vibrant feel to it that gives its characters room to breathe and be themselves. The best part: Nobody wears out their welcome.
"Real Men Have Flaws"
Victor Vargas is a teenager ready to lose his virginity, but a mis-hap that takes place early in the movie sends his reputation in the neighborhood on a downward spiral. Cursed as the guy who had sex with “the ugly fat chick,” Victor wants to redeem himself. He sets his sights on neighborhood beauty “Juicy” Judy (Judy Marte) and doesn’t hesitate to flex his charm when trying to ask her out. His best friend, meanwhile, asks out Judy’s best friend. Neither of them has an interest of either of these two guys.
But Judy has a younger brother, Carlos (Wilfree Vasquez) who has an interest in Victor’s younger sister, Vicki. Victor uses this to his advantage by helping the kid get a date with his sister so that Victor can get closer to Judy. Victor apologizes for coming on too strong to Judy and she accepts him, but only to use him to ward off the idiots who gawk at and harass her. “Think of him as bug spray,” she later justifies.
Eventually, a mutual respect grows between Victor and Judy and the movie becomes less and less about sex and more about intimacy. Nino tries to get advice on the opposite sex from his now-infamous brother, but all Victor can do is show him how to properly lick his lips. Vicki, not the most sociable girl in the neighborhood, finds herself trying to shoo away an admirer, but to no avail. Everything happens under the watchful eye of Grandma, who tries to send Victor to the authorities for being nothing but a bad influence. Here, the movie becomes less about first love and more about family ties.
But “Raising Victor Vargas” possesses many universal themes. Victor finds that he loves Judy because he needs to, not because he needs her. He finds that he in fact does have the insight and the bravery to be a human being and not the stud he wants to be known as. He invites Judy to eat dinner with him and his family as a show of faith to his Grandma that Judy means a lot to him. He also wants Judy to see all of who he is, warts and all. Victor Vargas simply wants to be known and loved. His Grandma loves him, sure, but will probably never really know him or her other grandchildren, even though they live so tightly together with wafer-thin walls. In the end, “Raising Victor Vargas” is about the need for privacy and intimacy coupled with the desperate need to express one’s self.
This is one of those great movies where you just sit back and wonder how it came to be made. Just how does one make a movie with a non-professional cast in their natural surroundings and make it feel as though the audience is eavesdropping? The performances are across-the-board pitch-perfect because they don’t feel like performances. They feel like life. There is an equal amount of charm and sadness that lurks within each and every one of these people. The Grandma, in particular, has such a lifeforce on screen that even though she does a horrible thing by trying to get rid of Victor, we admire her intention more than we condemn her for her action. Our heart actually goes out to her, in a way.
The only problem I have with the movie is a minor one and one that many first-time directors try and attempt. There seems to be a feeling amongst newcomers that one of the best ways for a movie to feel in-the-moment and realistic is by shaking the camera so that the movie will feel more like a documentary. “Raising Victor Vargas” is already so real it doesn’t need this tactic. It doesn’t do it constantly, but there are moments when one wishes they would just invest in a tri-pod. I suppose that on the set and through the lens, it doesn’t appear to be that jarring, but when blown up to the big screen, it can be a bit of a burden (I felt the same way about “Roger Dodger”).No matter. “Raising Victor Vargas” has so much going for it, a few jittery camera moves won’t distract you that much. For a movie about a horny teenager, it has such an amazing feel of innocence about it. Every character is experiencing a form of love for the first time. For Victor, it’s intimate instead of physical. For Nino, it’s an awakening of his physicality. For Vicki, it’s the start of what could lead to a first kiss. And for Grandma, it’s a rude awakening for her when she tries to keep these feelings and events repressed in the name of tradition. Her love for her Grandchildren must change and start anew, but with deeper understanding. And for director Sollett, it’s the first of what promises to be a very fruitful and exciting career. The wheels will take him far.
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originally posted: 04/29/03 22:50:47
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.