Raising Victor Vargas

The very first shot of Raising Victor Vargas easily sums up the Victor Vargas character. He is standing cocky, licking his lips, flexing his pecs, trying to impress a girl. When writer/director Peter Sollett (Five Feet High and Rising) reveals what the girl looks like, the entire affair becomes pretty pathetic. She is a little more than a tad overweight, and once everybody finds out what Victor (Victor Rasuk, Five Feet High and Rising) is up to, they begin to tease him mercilessly. Underneath the teenage bravado is a lost little kid, who tries his best to act cool because he doesn't want anybody else to know exactly what is going on.

Raising Victor Vargas is a remaking of Sollett's short film Five Feet High and Rising with writing credit going to Sollett and Eva Vives, and uses many of the same people to play the roles they did in the short. Sollett used non-actors, and he made some really amazing choices. Rasuk and Judy Marte (Five Feet High and Rising) give strong, gritty performances that adroitly capture the fiery rage of teenage rebellion and the unsure first steps of attraction. Marte is Judy, the neighborhood hottie, who has to deal with all sorts of boys trying to bed her. Victor sets his sights on her, both because he does find her attractive and because he wants to deflect as much attention as possibly away from his escapade at the beginning of the film.

Victor is not prepared for somebody as strong-willed as Judy. He thinks that all his games will work on her, and they don't. Judy is accustomed to such shenanigans, and has resorted to telling people she has a boyfriend just to get them to stop bothering her. However, she slowly realizes that Victor is extremely persistent. As they begin to spend more time together, they begin to let their defenses down, although both do so slowly. They are like two wild animals warily circling each other, each looking for a weakness in the other. Judy is not like the other girls Victor knows. She's smart and tough, like he is (or like he thinks he is), and can see right through him. Both are afraid to let their guard down, because they don't want to get hurt.

Part of what makes Raising Victor Vargas successful is that he sketches a complete portrait of Victor's life, showing his family and his surroundings. His family lives on the Lower East Side of New York, and although they are poor and the neighborhood is bad, Sollett makes it looks strangely beautiful. Victor lives with his grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), his brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk) who idolizes him, and his sister Vicki (Melonie Krystal Rodriguez). All of them are basically good kids, with a little too much time on their hands. Grandma is having trouble with Victor, who is trying to assert his independence. Victor clearly loves his family, but wants to project a macho image so it appears otherwise. His budding relationship with Judy forces him to reexamine the way the thinks about things, in essence forcing him to grow up.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Rated R for strong language.

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