Directed by Peter Sollett. USA. 2002.
Set in a somewhat sanitized-looking version of Manhattan's Lower East Side, 16-year old Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) lives with his younger brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk), his chubby sister Vicky (Krystal Rodriguez) and his old-fashioned grandmother (Altagracia Guzman) who asks the children to "answer me with your eyes''. Victor, concerned that his self-image will take a beating when his friends find out he has been dating an unpopular girl, goes with his friend Harold (Kevin Rivera) to the public swimming pool to try to pick up young women. He walks shirtless with a macho swagger, yet underneath he is insecure. Desperate for approval, Victor makes stumbling attempts to pick up "Juicy Judy" (Judy Marte) but can't get past her defensive distancing. She pretends to have a boyfriend and admits to using Victor as "bug spray" to ward off neighbourhood louts. Victor is forced to ask Judy's younger brother Carlos (Wilfree Vasquez) for a formal introduction in return for a quid pro quo with his sister Vicky.
While other romances form
a backdrop (Harold and Judy's friend Melonie, Carlos and Vicky), the plot
centres on the halting attempts of Victor and Judy to make an emotional
connection. Things get complicated when Nino asks Victor to teach him about
sex. Grandma discovers Nino practicing his lessons in the bathroom and
blames Victor for Nino's "depravity". In a tragi-comic attempt to relinquish
custody, she hauls the children down to Juvenile Court, points at Victor
and tells the social worker, "This one is going the wrong way.'' Though
I would have liked Raising Victor Vargas to provide a deeper understanding
of the characters, their transformation from adolescent posturing to genuine
caring seems very real and Rasuk's performance is rare in its ability to
show both self-assured bravado and an appealing vulnerability.
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