Latino Teens: Raising Victor Vargas
Worth seeking out:
Here’s a modest feature full of heartfelt emotion and human foibles.
Raising Victor Vargas marks an impressive writer-director debut
for Peter Sollett. It’s a perceptive take on teen life, and, while
it concerns Latinos, it should appeal to all kinds of filmgoers.
teens are with sex and status, the movie is more deeply about
those new feelings and need for independence that mark the mid-teen
years. The picture could promote classroom discussions about such
issues as posturing to impress your peers and being your true
Set on the gritty
Lower East Side where surprisingly kitchen gardens house wandering
chickens, the opening at a swimming pool sets the tone. Victor
Vargas is teased about his intimate relationship with the upstairs
fatty, so he sets his sights on the neighborhood beauty —the haughty
Judy Ramirez (Judy Marte), who immediately snubs him. Working
a deal with her brother, the two connect and he tries to get her
to come over for visit and a burger dinner.
Victor lives with
his old-fashioned grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), slightly younger,
brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk) and plus size sister (Krystal Rodriquez).
As Victor begins to feel he’s too big to live by grandma’s rules,
the old woman, who grew up on a farm in the Dominican Republic,
makes sure they know she’s the boss. Grandma (mom and dad are
history) constantly reminds them how she wants them to be “good
family” and means to achieve this: She takes the kids to church,
locks the phone and even tries to turn cocky Victor over to the
Judy warms to Victor and the ups and downs on this road to first
love allow them to lower their defenses and have a touching and
real emotional connection. These lovely scenes convey the newfound
feeling of honestly expressing what you feel.
Sollet, who developed
the story with Eva Vives, wrote a script, but let the cast of
real street kids improvise it, with excellent results. Their behavior
is thoroughly believable. Rasuk is terrific and so, in fact, is
the entire cast. But Guzman’s grandmother is a scene-stealer.
(88 minutes; R, Samuel Goldwyn Films/Fireworks release).
Also tops: Spellbound,
the dynamic documentary, about finalists in The National Spelling
Bee. It’s not so much about the Bee itself, but about the families,
the coaching, and other telling details about the self-assured
kids who try to finish first. (95 minutes.)#
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