Raising Victor Vargas
is the first great fiction film of the year, a film so unique
and original that it is impossible not to be moved emotionally by
“Raising Victor Vargas” is the first great fiction film of the year, a film so unique and original that it is impossible not to be moved emotionally by it.
An exploration of a multicultural (African American and Latino mix) poor family on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the film is a powerfully funny, exciting look at life from the perspective of those who have little in the way of money or material things but count on the bonds of love to keep them going in the right direction.
As we meet 17-year-old Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk), it is apparent he fancies himself the ultimate ladies man, although he is currently sleeping with “Fat Donna” (Donna Maldonado) and the news is getting around the neighborhood, much to Victor’s embarrassment and shame.
Setting out to find a new girlfriend, Victor and his best buddy head over to the neighborhood pool on a sweltering day. Setting his sights on the “hottest” girl in his district, Victor approaches the unapproachable “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte), hoping to win her affections. He fails miserably but gets her attention. The comic tension is thick in the first scene with Victor and Judy, as she playfully pushes him away, making him believe she already has a boyfriend when the truth is she’s just as inexperienced with love as Victor.
In order to win a date with Judy, Victor hits up Judy’s brother for help.
Knowing that Judy’s brother Carlos (Wilfree Vasquez) has a crush on his sister Vicky (Krystal Rodriguez), Victor arranges a date between Vicky and Carlos, hoping Carlos will return the favor.
The plan works, sort of, and Judy agrees to tolerate Victor provided he keeps his distance. Confused, Victor ascends to the top of the neighborhood’s ladykillers, all the while not understanding the nature of his relationship with Judy.
All of this takes place in the confines of a small, run-down apartment run by Victor’s grandmother, played by the hilarious and sometimes downright scary Altagracia Guzman. Although she loves the kids unconditionally, her extreme methods constantly send the kids up a wall.
There are some classic family scenes in this beautifully rendered film, like when Grandma catches Nino exploring his sexuality alone in the bathroom, reacting so violently that she conspires to throw Victor out of the house, sure that he has “taught” his younger brother to be a “sinner.”
These scenes are equally funny and poignant, as it becomes apparent the kids are growing up, becoming their own people and soon will be out on their own and not under the control of grandma, the only family they have ever known.
“Raising Victor Vargas” has a natural, improvisational feel that echoes the struggle poor folks have in real life. Director Peter Sollett deserves high marks for developing the characters first in rehearsals, then writing a story around them, which is a great way to enhance a film’s overall potential to move an audience.
That a poor family, under a single woman’s care, is presented as loving and honest, is a miracle. It’s the first film I’ve seen in a long time that depicts inner city people with dignity and respect – not a single person uses illicit drugs and there are no guns anywhere to be found. “Raising Victor Vargas” is truly wonderful, a film that embraces the inconsistencies in life, and you should run out and see it right away. It’s a life-changing experience, profound and moving to the core.
RAISING VICTOR VARGAS. Written and directed by Peter Sollett. With Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz, Altagracia Guzman, Silvestre Rasuk, Krystal Rodriguez and Kevin Rivera. Rated R (language), 90 minutes. Now playing at selected Bay Area theaters.