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Victor Vargas shares a tiny one-bedroom Lower East Side apartment along
with his two siblings and his Dominican grandmother. Grandma loves the
kids, but she can't help but worry that the outside world is a scary
place, and that her kids are growing up far too fast. It doesn't help
that big brother Victor is such a bad influence, constantly preening
about and chasing after girls. Victor fancies himself a real ladies man,
despite the fact that he's a short little guy, and struts around like
he's god's gift to women. When his younger half-sister Vicky finds out
that Victor's been sleeping with the neighborhood ugly girl, though, he
finds his reputation on the line. Vicky loves nothing better than to
drive her brother nuts, and she eagerly spreads the delicious gossip.
Soon, everyone's laughing about Victor and Fat Donna. Determined to
prove to his friends that he's still the resident stud, Victor sets out
to snag himself the prettiest girl in the neighborhood,
"Juicy" Judy Gonzalez. Judy, however, is used to guys chasing
after her and is dead-set on avoiding the idiot local boys at all costs.
They're immature, they're crude, and they only want one thing from her.
And at first, Victor seems no different, which is why Judy refuses to
even acknowledge his existence. Slowly, however, Victor insinuates his
way into her life. As Victor drops the player façade and lets Judy see
what he's really all about, Judy's own defenses start to come down as
Raising Victor Vargas is a first movie by a young
writer-director, but there's little in the film itself to clue you into
this fact. There's none of the annoying self-consciousness that first
films often have -- Peter Sollett tells his story in a way that's just
so perfectly elegant and straightforward that you don't really think
about the way in which it's being told at all. The movie's wholly
focused on its characters, not about some message or attitude that the
author is trying to convey, and everything from the emotions, to the
dialogue, to the cramped apartments and gritty city streets in which the
film takes place feels totally naturalistic, never contrived. And then
there are the young actors -- none of whom you're likely to recognize
from any other film -- who are all so good that you never feel like
they're acting at all. They look real and they talk real, and the
interactions between the various characters feel exactly right. I love
the petty fights between Victor and step-sister Vicky, and the little
speech about getting girls that Victor gives to his little brother Nino
(in a nice casting touch, the actors who play Victor and Nino are
real-life brothers, and the physical resemblance and similar mannerisms
really help to make their relationship believable). The conversations
between Judy and her best friend Melonie (one of my favorite secondary
characters in the movie -- if I have one quibble with the movie it's
that Melonie doesn't get more screen time) have a fresh, unscripted feel
to them; you really buy that these two girls share everything, and that
each of these smart, strong girls trusts and relies on the other more
than any other person in the world. But what I like best about Raising
Victor Vargas is that it's one of the few movies I've seen that
portrays teen love with real respect. What we actually see of Victor and
Judy's physical relationship is pretty minimal, though by film's end,
it's pretty clear that they've had sex. We're not really privy to that
because sex isn't what the relationship's primarily about. Instead, we
get to watch something a lot more interesting develop on-screen:
intimacy, trust, the foundation for a real relationship. You can't help
but feel optimistic that this is one movie relationship that could
actually last, even after the credits have rolled.—reviewed
by Yee-Fan Sun
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