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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24%
Average: 8%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 45 user ratings

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Raising Victor Vargas
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by R. Swan

"This teen drama out-paces its barrio-verite antecedents"
4 stars

I like Raising Victor Vargas for the same reason that I liked Junot Diaz’s Drown, my first high school boyfriend, and the sexy parts of Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (I think all of these examples involve a guy wacking off and being confused about his identity). Because the film is suffused a kind of operatic teenage-boy angst, you feel like you’ve stepped into a young adult novel about machismo and the immigrant experience. But the characters’ identities get displaced into these little worldly symbols, like a Chinese hieroglyphic tattoo, a lipstick stain on the rim of a glass, or one of those plastic homeboy figurines you can buy from gumball machines.

Aesthetically, the film is super-pared down, bearing the proper I’m-an-indy-made-on-a-shoestring-budget creds. "Naked" might be an apt descriptive term –and I’m not just talking sweaty, bare-chested teenage boys, though there’s a lot of that too. I’m talking love scenes without the extra-diagetic music, lighting, or showboaty camera techniques that are supposed to steer our emotions. What’s more, the actors are real-life maladjusted youth with heavy New York accents, culled from a barrio in Brooklyn are Queens. Thus director Peter Sollett follows the neo-realist heels of Bunuel’s Los Olvidados and Meirelles’ City of God. Hand-held cameras make the awkward courtship scenes seem more jagged and more intimate, so you really feel like a dirty voyeur peering into the secret lives of Catholic teens.
But that’s part of the film’s charm. Like the similar-themed Real Women Have Curves, it’s a movie about hormones colliding with an entrenched value system. Altagracia Guzman is convincingly cute and pissy as the repressive, Old World Catholic grandmother who upbraids Victor (Victor Rasuk) while indulging his brown-nosey younger brother (Silvestre Rasuk). As much as we’re rooting for Victor -who, after all, is infectious as the barrio’s self-described Don Juanito- we can’t hate on the brother too much. In one scene he asks Victor how to approach girls, and Victor him tells him to lick his lips –chicks won’t go for chapped dudes. You might call it a quirky fraternal reconciliation without the sappy "Just be yourself, Beav," that we’d expect from a conventional feel-gooder.
I’ve got a bone to pick with Bitchslapper Chris Parry for comparing Raising Victor Vargas to the raunchier Y Tu Mama Tambien and gross-out docu-drama Kids, even if said comparison was meant to be flattering. To be fair, all of the philandering protagonists in these films have guy-angst in spades, and envision themselves -as Parry astutely notes- as "Lotharios" of the hood. But Victor has the cagey, misunderstood, sensitive guy qualities of antecedents like Holden Caulfield, distinguishing him from wacked-out characters like Telly, Tenoch, and Julio --who are the kind of kids you want to beat up, using their parents as billy clubs. Granted,Victor’s love interest, Judi, has the same disarmingly virginal aspect of Jennie from Kids and the same femme-fatal-ish quality of Luisa from Y Tu Mama Tambien, but she’s no easy lay.

It’s most accurate to situate Raising Victor Vargas in the burgeoning genre of cultural-diaspora flicks with teen protagonists --which includes Bend it Like Beckham and the aforementioned Real Women Have Curves. Neither full-fledged chick flick nor pure verite, Vargas manages to get beyond the theme of teen deflowering and delve into all issues identity-related. A lesser director might have fallen back on schmaltzy family drama or angsty-guy navel-gazing, but Sollet resists these temptations. Unlike that ungainly turmoil called "adolescence," Vargas has a kind of spare radiance that carries throughout.

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originally posted: 04/30/03 09:17:15
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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.

User Comments

9/07/08 Mariel this movie was great, it really shows how Victor, myself, and other latinas really grew up. 5 stars
10/29/06 dave What movies should be all about 5 stars
6/05/06 j ran i just love this movie, its simple but yet it makes you feel like you were there. i just lu 5 stars
10/22/05 Phil M. Aficionado I'm going to "awesome" because the spirit and acting and "realism" are superior. Marte=++++ 5 stars
6/02/05 danielle i luubbbb this movie and victor! 5 stars
3/20/05 Tay Very realistic portrayal of the issues and of being a teenager in the innercity 4 stars
11/15/04 Shana Put it Back on T.V. B\C. I would watch it over & over again! 5 stars
9/28/04 Dieyi01 great movie...loved to see new faces in film 5 stars
9/26/04 Tor Honolulu More like a docu than anything; I've never seen such natural acting by kids that age 5 stars
7/13/04 Ginelle Greene great movie &it helps that Victor's really HOTTT 5 stars
4/28/04 Gabriella Sanchez Victor's hot -Judy's pretty-Good combination -GREAT MOVIE 5 stars
4/17/04 LoZzA its a great movie with real life situations.. loveeee victor.. he is a total spunk!!! 5 stars
4/07/04 Belinda Melonie Diaz did not play the pre-teen half sister. She was Judy's best friend. 4 stars
3/14/04 y2mckay Much more depth in this film than the video box plot synopsis can impart. 4 stars
12/31/03 Peter I loved every character in the film. They had a natural relationship with each other . 5 stars
10/09/03 aye one of the best films of 2003 so far 5 stars
9/22/03 melanie victor soOo banggin.. if he ever read dis.. holla at my screen name- xxghetochinitaxx lol!! 5 stars
9/08/03 Dede This film was AWESOME!!! It was so true to life and didn't seem fake. I would recommend it! 5 stars
9/06/03 Gabby Longoria It was a good movie and he is cute. 5 stars
8/20/03 miranda I really liked these characters-one of my favorite movies this year 5 stars
7/07/03 Emperor's New Clothes? Nope. Just a Fat, Ugly, Naked, Guy. I haven't been this moved in...Ever. It's so honest, it's painful. 5 stars
6/10/03 Daniel p Realistic portryal of a hispanic family and a teenagers first love, excellent. 5 stars
6/07/03 Enrica I love this movie, it is so real that I can really relate to it. I love it! 5 stars
6/06/03 Amy I loved the way this movie was filmed and how real the people are. 5 stars
6/05/03 Kim True to life. Amazing! 5 stars
6/02/03 Edgar Serra The love making was left to the audience imagination. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! 4 stars
6/01/03 Sense2k The bitchslap is right on the money - this one is very believable and funny 4 stars
5/16/03 Johnny One of the most moving films in a long while. 5 stars
5/10/03 Audrey This movie is truly worth seeing, it's great. 5 stars
5/07/03 Smorgy I loved these characters! Very real. 5 stars
5/05/03 Garfield White Great! no Hollywood hooks. Texturally real. I would take a group of teenagers to see this 5 stars
4/26/03 joy best film i've seen in a long time....sensitive, real, funny, moving....very moving 5 stars
4/26/03 Mitch Wonderful 4 stars
4/25/03 Tony Great of the best I've seen in the last few years. 5 stars
4/22/03 Barry Eskandani Real! Beautiful! Authentic! Sexy! 5 stars
4/22/03 noemi romero this movie was hilarious many latino's can identify with the plot. 5 stars
4/21/03 ashok this is a beautiful, compelling movie.. see it! 5 stars
4/20/03 sMASH bOOGIE i saw "FIve Feet High and Rising" back when and i think their acting improved 5 stars
4/19/03 Lois Eltman Warm, realistic, charming, unpretentious and refreshing! 5 stars
4/18/03 Carmen It was a wonderful experience!! 5 stars
4/16/03 oberon loved it, loved the rusak boys... 5 stars
4/12/03 carole jones Absolutely wonderful. very real. At the end I felt like I wanted to cry. 5 stars
3/30/03 Marty This movie was real, funny, touching, and I'm going to see it again. 5 stars
1/23/03 Sean Why can't all movies be this good. 5 stars
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  28-Mar-2003 (R)
  DVD: 24-Aug-2004



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