Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Short film Five Feet High And Rising;
TEENS seem to be coming of age every other month at the movies,
so it takes something special indeed to get critics raving.
But Raising Victor Vargas played to receptive audiences at the
Cannes, Toronto and Sundance film festivals, as well as winning
the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival and the
Made in Spanish Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival last
The reason is simple. Raising Victor Vargas is a smarter than
average tale of teen angst, made all the more remarkable by its
firm grounding in reality, its excellent sense of humour and by
the fact that it is comprised of a cast of untrained actors.
The latter point, in particular, works to its advantage, helping
writer/director, Peter Sollett, to expertly capture the awkwardness
of adolescence in several of the improvised moments, that only
serve to make the characters more human and identifiable.
The Victor Vargas of the title is not unlike the countless cocky
teens we have witnessed in any number of movies, strutting his
stuff early on as he attempts to seduce his latest conquest.
The only trouble is, the woman in question is an overweight and
unpopular girl, and once word gets out that he may have slept
with her, Victors credibility is placed on the line.
Acting quickly to repair the damage, Victor sets his sights on
Juicy Judy Ramirez, widely considered to be the most
beautiful girl on New Yorks Lower East Side, and is amazed
when she accepts him as her new man, despite initial
But as Victors arrogance threatens to run into overdrive,
his life begins to get more complicated, as the pressures of living
at home with his wayward family (most notably, his outrageous
grandmother) begin to take their toll, and the real reasons for
Judys acceptance of him become clear.
As Victor, the aptly-named Victor Rasuk expertly juggles the
testosterone-fuelled cockiness of his sexually aggressive teenager
with a sensitivity that initially looks beyond him, while his
playboy shenanigans frequently get him into trouble with his grandmother,
who repeatedly blames him for the corruptive influence he has
on his younger brother and sister.
His relationship with Judy (Judy Marte) is brilliantly observed,
so that youre virtually holding your breath in anticipation
of each embarrassing moment whenever they are together - although
a little more time could have been devoted to exploring her characters
reluctance to find love.
As good as Rasuk and the rest of the cast is, however, it is
Altagracia Guzman, as the fiercely outspoken grandmother, who
steals the show, commanding every scene she is in, whether its
dragging Victor off to be taken into the care of social services
for his wayward attitude to family, or undermining his attempts
to impress Judy at an impromptu dinner party.
Sollett may have opted for raw authenticity over tried and tested
stars, but his gamble pays huge dividends, helping
the audience to really become captivated by the lives of the films
In fact, such is the realism of many of the scenes, that one
is reminded of this years City
of God, which also used untrained stars to mesmerising effect,
as well as some striking locations, as NYs Lower East Side
has seldom looked so lived in.
Raising Victor Vargas is a delight from start to finish and one
which more than justifies the strong word of mouth which has been
bestowed upon it.