The story of a New York teenager on the prowl features strong performance from a non-professional cast, but inadequate writing and directorial preparation leave "Raising Victor Vargas" dramatically stagnant.
By JOSHUA TANZER
(Originally reviewed in March 2003 at the New Directors / New Films festival, Lincoln Center.)
Victor, a good-looking Lower East Side teenage on the make, has a problem. Her name is Donna and he's about to regret ever getting involved with her.
"You know what, Victor?" his sister taunts. "After today you won't be able to set foot outside without somebody laughing in your face. You'll always be known as Fat Donna's man and that shit will be funny."
|RAISING VICTOR VARGAS|
|Written and directed by: Peter Sollett.|
Cast: Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz, Kevin Rivera, Altagracia Guzman, Silvestre Rasuk, Krystal Rodriguez, Kevin Rivera, Wilfree Vasquez, Donna Maldonado.
Cinematography: Tim Orr.
187 2nd Ave at 12th St.|
| RELATED ARTICLES|
New Directors / New Films 2003|
Trying to restore his reputation after being seen with Fat Donna, he decides to woo the highly desirable Judy, but he'll have to learn a lot about women before he's ready for her. She holds him at arm's length when he lures her up to his family's place and tries to round a few of the bases with her, but that doesn't stop him from boasting to friends that he hit a home run. He calls her "Juicy Judy" behind her back. Nice.
What unfolds is a story of conflict between the primal drive to get laid and the need to learn how to treat a woman. Victor's younger brother Nino (the two are played by real-life brothers Victor and Silvestre Rasuk) is equally desperate but much less smooth, and looks to Victor, not exactly an authoritative source, for advice on how to get himself a girl too. Their efforts lead to some of the film's best and funniest moments as their strictly religious grandmother (Altagracia Guzman) decides Victor is a bad apple leading the whole household into sin and tries to contain the budding male libido.
On the plus side, "Raising Victor Vargas" has a very engaging cast. Victor Rasuk and Judy Marte have a lot of appeal in the lead roles, the heavily accented Guzman is fine as the Dominican-born grandma who's still not entirely familiar with the American way of life, and Silvestre Rasuk and Krystal Rodriguez give solid performances as the family's younger siblings. Given a set of predetermined situations in lieu of an actual script, the actors were responsible for developing much of their own dialogue, and they've done well it usually rings true.
However, the film doesn't feel fully formed as a story, and maybe this approach is part of the reason. It doesn't have much complexity as a boy-meets-girl story, and a more developed script might have added some weight. Plot threads are simply dropped and many scenes feel a bit stagnant. The actors themselves have turned in very good performances based on instinct and personal experience, but writer-director Peter Sollett needed to plan his movie with more structure and in greater detail to tell the story in a more engaging way.
|MARCH 28, 2003|
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