Rated: PG-13 for adult language, and sexual references.
Genre: Drama Romance
Directed By: Peter Sollett
Running Time: 1:28
Review by: Felix Vasquez Jr.
Review Date: 5/1/04
Special Features:


There aren't many depictions of Hispanic American families in films these days that have been brought to screen that didn't take the stereotypical and cliché route in its characters and storytelling, so it's a rare thing to discover a film that portrays Hispanic Americans in a real down to earth fashion, such as this. Not since the recent "Our Song" has there been a film that was so realistic and accurate with its characters, and for "Raising Victor Vargas" I was surprised to discover that this was one of the more interesting stories to come along. For anyone whose ever grown up in an inner city neighborhood (as I did), it's more than likely you might have come across someone who presents the exact same characteristics of anyone in here; but don't be fooled, this may look like a teen sex film like "Kids," but it isn't.

For me a lot of the characters look as if they came straight from my neighborhood; the wise old grandmother, the neighborhood player, the neighborhood hotty and her over protective best friend, all are people I've encountered in my life, and this resonated with me in many ways. After Victor Vargas, a young Dominican boy in New York is discovered by his friends to have dated the unpopular local girl Donna, he now decides to re-claim his reputation and looks towards the gorgeous neighborhood girl "Juicy" Judy Rodriguez. We manage to get a glimpse at a wide cast of characters and a lot of interesting sub-plots. We learn about Victor who's having a hard time being taken seriously after seeing the local outcast Donna, his younger brother is having girl troubles, his grandmother refuses to let her children grow up, his younger sister is having trouble with Judy's brother Carlos who is in love with her and follows her around, Judy's friend Melonie is falling in love with Victor's friend and the two instantly form a relationship, and Judy has a lot of trouble with men who press on her when she passes by them and is afraid to trust anyone and let them into her life.

Within all those subplots it sets the way for some very interesting moments in the film including when Judy's brother Carlos meets Victor's sister for the first time and throws up all over her, when Victor is teaching his brother how to talk to the ladies, and when the grandmother discovers Victor's brother Nino masturbating in the bathroom, of course its a tired gag that might have been bland, but here even that is presented in a humorous fashion. Their grandmother presents the old world mentality with her old world thinking and approaches discipline towards the children with a firm hand and a bit narrow-mindedness.
When the phone is thrown out the window by Victor after his sister is about to reveal to her friend about his tryst with Donna, the grandmother locks the telephone and keeps the key, and when they ask "what if an emergency happens when you're not here", she insists "An emergency will happen only when I'm here."

When she thinks Victor may be having too much of a bad influence on his younger brother by teaching him how to talk to women, she takes him to a Juvenile detention center and insists on leaving him there based only on the grounds that he's a bad influenced. I wasn't sure if I liked the character of Victor Vargas because he's presented in the film as a smug, arrogant, and egotistic guy but as the film went on he turned human.  

He's often shown as irresponsible and a bad influence but most of it is just a front he puts on for people so he won't be shown as someone who really helps keep the family together and has a big influence on his brother and sister which is shown when they tell their grandmother they don't want him to leave. Judy instantly sees right through Victor's smug facade and pretty much puts him in his place refusing to give into his come ons. She agrees to start dating him solely on the bases that he'll help keep the men from approaching her on the streets, though he doesn't know that. But in some way we get the sense she likes him a little when she keeps a toy he gives her and when he starts to show that he's not the bad person she thought he was. Meanwhile, in an interesting sub-plot, Judy's friend begins falling for Victor's friend and they form a romance despite the fact that she and Judy vowed never to see any guys.

Judy is a very grounded and intelligent love interest for Victor, and she's incredibly gorgeous, and the more she reflects his come on's the more he approaches her but she sees right through him and keeps him in his place in many of the moments when they meet. We're never really sure why she has such a dislike for men, and we're never told what happened to Victor's parents, but none of that really seems to matter because it's real. Judy doesn't seem to want her friend to have anything to do with men either, because when she confronts Judy about her relationship, Judy's first question is "Are you sure you can trust him?" Maybe it would be perceived as a concern but it's obvious she has no trust towards any man. The story's progression and the characters developments are real, and that's what made this so utterly enjoyable, that there are no choices the characters make that make the audience question them, nor do they make any choices that would insult our intelligence or suddenly suspend logic.

The climax and ultimate plot resolution in the film is down to Earth and doesn't take the safe route which I ultimately feared it would do. The acting is purely excellent and the good chemistry between the characters is only surpassed by the excellent screenplay by Peter Sollett who creates individual characters with their own presence and creates people that could have been taken right off of a New York city neighborhood. The dialogue is stifled and the character's lines clash, and some interrupt the other which might be taken right off of real conversations because I never doubted their dialogue once. For those who have lived in the inner city of New York, this will resonate to a great extent with them, and for me this was such an entertaining slice of life and coming of age story of a young man who learns about himself and the people around him.

This is one of the best most true slice of life, coming of age films to arrive in years with great acting, an excellent screenplay, beautiful direction, and a plot that will resonate loudly with those who grew up in the inner-city.



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