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flick pick | Raising Victor Vargas 2003
Directed by: Peter Sollett
Written by: Peter Sollett (story + screenplay), Eva Vives (story)
Starring: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Altagracia Guzman, Melonie Diaz, Krystal Rodriguez, Silvestre Rasuk
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: lovey
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis Seventeen-year-old 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 well.

Review 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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