Raising Victor Vargas

on March 28, 2003 by Chris Wiegand
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Formerly known as "Long Way Home," this authentic account of growing pains on New York City's Lower East Side is an extension of sorts to director Peter Sollett's acclaimed short "Five Feet High And Rising." Hip, sweet and exceptionally sensitive, it might just be the film of the year.

A teen Latino lothario-in-training, Victor Vargas spends his summer vacation prowling the streets of Manhattan and chasing honeys with his main man Harold. Victor thinks he's a smooth operator but when he bumps up against feisty neighborhood hottie Judy he falls instantly, and hopelessly, in love.

While Harold strives to seduce her best friend, the fiercely independent Judy is immediately suspicious of Victor's charms and assures him that she already has a boyfriend. But Victor loves a challenge. In order to win Judy over he secures the assistance of her brother, Carlos. As part of the deal, Carlos gets himself a date with Victor's little sister.

The bulk of the ensuing narrative is unevenly divided between the ups and downs of these three relationships. Along the way, Victor's younger brother discovers the joys of onanism and Mama Vargas grows increasingly vexed about Victor's influence on her clan.

Initially masquerading as an uproarious teen comedy, "Raising Victor Vargas" creeps up on the audience to deliver an unexpectedly uplifting, almost sublime experience. A picture that clearly comes straight from the heart, it reminds you of the screen's potential to accurately reflect everyday life and genuinely move the viewer.

Sollett's film never feels less than real and he coaxes complex, natural performances from a cast that includes many non-actors. Victor Rasuk is unquestionably charismatic in the central role, while Judy Marte makes for a stunning foil. The intimate camerawork is perfectly complemented by some handsome cinematography from Tim Orr, who previously won praise for his work on "George Washington," another film to treat adolescence with uncommon dignity. Starring Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz and Altagracia Guzman. Directed and written by Peter Sollett. Produced by Scott Macaulay, Robin O'Hara, Peter Sollett and Alain de la Mata. An IDP release. Drama. Rated R for strong language. Running time: 87 min.

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