January 17, 2004 -- This is an earnest, straightforward, standard tale of Hispanic loves and family lives in the inner city. It is more like a European film than an American film, in that the characters are ordinary people. Most American films are about uncommon people or extraordinary people.
The central story is the clash between traditional values, represented by the grandmother, played by Altagracia Guzman, and the three children she is struggling to raise on her own. Grandma, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, is unable to cope with the emerging sexuality of the three tween to teenaged children, Victor Vargas (played by Victor Rasuk), Victor's younger brother Nino (played by Victor Rasuk's real brother, Silvestre Rasuk) and Victor's sister, Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez). She also has trouble adjusting to the fact that Vicki has a boyfriend and Victor has a girlfriend, the very hot Judy Rodriguez (also known as “juicy Judy,” played by Judy Marte). Victor and Judy meet at the neighborhood swimming pool and Victor approaches her bravely, showing off to his friends with his smoothest line. She shoots him down. Victor then tries a more traditional strategy. He tracks down Judy’s brother Carlos and convinces him to give Victor a formal introduction. In return, Victor agrees to introduce Carlos to his younger sister. This accelerated onset of sexuality in modern America catches the old grandmother off guard and unprepared. She is unable to cope with these children who are rapidly becoming strangers. She expects them to exercise some restraint. She doesn't know that is not the way it happens in these kinds of films.
The dreaded coming-of-age story also includes a teen romance between Judy's friend Melonie (played by Melonie Diaz) and Victor's friend, Harold (Kevin Rivera). Both Melonie and Judy are very cautious about romance. Judy, being the more attractive of the two, is constantly being hit on by boys and men who make very crude remarks about her. She sees Victor as a sort of dog to keep the boys away. Victor sees Judy as a way to shed rumors about his supposed tryst with an unattractive neighborhood girl. After a time together, Victor and Judy begin to view their relationship as being a lot more than just convenient.
The film is deliberately paced, holds no real surprises and the story is conventional. There is little dramatic tension in the story and the romance is weak. This is a standard coming-of-age film, except for the almost documentary feel of it. This is a film which seems very realistic, very genuine. It seems authentic in its depiction of an inner-city family struggling to maintain its cultural, religious and traditional identity in the face of an overwhelming mainstream American cultural onslaught. “Raising Victor Vargas” is better than many other films in this genre, but is not exceptional. The use of hand held cameras and poor lighting gets annoying after a time. The film appears to have been made on a small budget. The acting is adequate. Otherwise, it is a competently made, low-budget film by writer-director Peter Sollett. This film rates a C+.
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