Raising Victor Vargas

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz, Altagracia Guzman, Silvestre Rasuk

Director: Peter Sollett

The diabolical first twenty minutes of this film contain a headache-inducing amount of shouting, bickering and squabbling from an unpleasant and immature bunch of teenagers from New York’s Lower East Side. I was worried the film would proceed in this fashion, but it soon calmed down and I eventually managed to enjoy it, but only just. This remains a distinctly unremarkable film throughout.

RAISING VICTOR VARGAS is a coming of age drama which centres on the eponymous hero Victor, a vain, sex-obsessed teenager whose reputation has taken a battering after he beds an unpopular, overweight girl. He plans to regain respect by asking out the district’s most gorgeous girl, Judy. Only trouble is, Judy is a difficult man-hater, and Victor has to overcome much resistance. They eventually get together, but then break up, but then get together again, and so on until the film ends on an inconclusive note. Snore.

Of much more interest is the storyline regarding Victor’s wayward family. Victor, and his younger brother and sister are all being raised single-handedly by their well-meaning but headstrong and inflexible grandmother. Unlike the romance plot of the film, this storyline of the trials and tribulations of an impoverished family contains much tenderness and honesty, as well as some moments of real humour and drama.

Indeed, this story strand had me laughing on more than one occasion, especially that obligatory scene for coming of age dramas – the one in which the adolescent boy, discovering his wakening sexuality, gets caught masturbating. Then granny proceeds to relate the incident over dinner, in front of the embarrassed boy’s elder brother and his girlfriend! Fantastic.

The performances are incredibly real and lifelike. Some shaky camera work contributes to a documentary feel. It is also hard not to believe that the characters are not playing themselves, or, if not, then at least extensions of themselves. This view is further enforced as most of the actors share their character’s names – so Victor Rasuk plays Victor, Judy Marte plays Judy, Melonie Diaz plays Melonie and so on.

The film also serves as a decent portrait of New York’s Lower East Side, which, due probably to it’s diverse ethnic mix and lack of affluence, is not seen much on the big screen. Or as the director puts it: ‘Matt Damon may walk through the Lower East Side in a movie, but you don’t see how people actually live and interact with their environment.’ But this is still mostly inconsequential stuff which is bound to make little, if any, impact on its release.

3 out of 6 stars