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Review: Raising Victor Vargas

The film is a tenderhearted evocation of a young Latino boy’s conflicts with girls and his own stubborn family.

3.5
Raising Victor Vargas
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Peter Sollett’s Raising Victor Vargas is a tenderhearted evocation of a young Latino boy’s conflicts with girls and his own stubborn family. The titular lothario (Victor Rasuk) lives with his sister, brother, and grandmother in a Lower East Side apartment and spends his summer hanging out on the streets and looking for girls at the city pool. If the look of the film recalls David Gordon Green’s masterpiece George Washington, it’s no coincidence: Sollett has enlisted the talented Tim Orr to create for him the same glorious Cinemascope palette that distinguished Green’s own first feature. The film has the sun-drenched look of a ‘70s relic; only the occasional pop-cultural reference (concert posters, a photo of Aaliyah, and a Mini Me mention) roots the film in the present. The timelessness of the film’s curiously non-gentrified Lower East Side milieu suggests that Victor’s struggle with the world is itself a timeless one. Victor fights with his sister (a remarkably bitchy Krystal Rodriquez), helps ease his brother into adolescence and in the process incurs his grandmother’s wrath. Sollett has deemed questions from interviewers regarding his own race (he comes from a white, upper middle-class film) as irrelevant. It’s not why he’s chosen to make a film about Latino youth that’s important, but the effortless humanism of his gaze. The film unravels like a blazing collection of snapshots chronicling the many fears and joys of growing up for a group of teenagers: the distrust “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte) and her best friend have for boys; Victor’s younger brother Nino’s masturbation troubles; and the tenderness of a first kiss. Some critics will no doubt call this deceptively simple film a minor work when, in reality, the film’s scope is so uniquely and blazingly authentic. Anyone who fails to recognize Sollet’s remarkable ability to observe and chronicle otherwise insignificant events that, when strung together, threaten to explode is to do the film a major disservice. Despite a clunky series of scenes that trace the grandmother’s stubbornness and the family’s trip to family court, Raising Victor Vargas is a coming-of-age tale of universal appeal.

Cast: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz, Altagracia Guzman, Silvestre Rasuk, Krystal Rodriguez, Kevin Rivera, Wilfree Vasquez, Donna Maldonado Director: Peter Sollett Screenwriter: Peter Sollett, Eva Vives Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films Running Time: 88 min Rating: R Year: 2002 Buy: Video

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