Raising Victor Vargas
2003 – Peter Stollett
Rated R – 88 minutes
Vault Rating: 7.5
Victor & Judy Up a Tree: Victor Rasuk and Judy Marte made their debut in 2003’s “Raising Victor Vargas.” Victor has gone onto a successful film and TV career and appears as Dr. Sanchez in “ER.” Judy will appear in the upcoming films, “A Kiss of Chaos” and “The Mortician,” both of which are still in production.
Latino Coming of Age Story:
Set in New York City, “Raising Victor Vargas” is that rare movie about poor urban latinos where shots are never fired and drugs are never ingested…
Instead, what we are treated to is a story about a number of adolescents in a lower class community who are worrying about real things. Things like, what do their friends think of them and will they ever hook up with a member of the opposite sex.
The Victor (Victor Rasuk) of the title sees himself as something of a lady killer, but when word of his liaison with “Fat Donna” gets out, he feels pressure to prove himself by setting his sights on “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte). Meanwhile, Victor’s saintly younger brother is wondering about girls too and needs guidance that he’ll surely not get from his straight-laced, old-world Grandmother (lovingly and laughably played by Altagracia Guzman). Apparently, all anyone needs in this ghetto is love.
Victor, we learn when his little brother Nino (Silvestre Rasuk, Victor’s real-life little brother) asks him for help with gitrls, comes from a long line of players.
“It runs in our blood,” he explains. “Look at Poppy: How many wives he had? Like four or five, right? How many half-brothers and sisters we have? A lot! I’ll put you onto one thing. Lick your … chappy-ass lips, man. You think girls wanna talk to you if you have chappy-ass lips?”
Yet we learn, too, that while Victor is smooth and is handsome, he also is very much real and vulnerable.
In this way, he is a perfect match for the prized “Juicy” Judy Gonzalez, because she suffers much the same way. Being the “it” girl in the neighborhood, she carries the weight of expectation cooly while, under the surface, she’s afraid to let anyone close to her.
So, when Victor’s wing man and Judy’s #2 strike up a relationship – Hell, even Judy’s chubby kid brother and Victor’s roundish younger sister are making goggly eyes at each other – it seems as if our leads are being pushed toward that inevitable leap of faith.
Before you all think this is just a movie about adolescent and teens hooking up during a hot summer in the poor latin sections of N.Y.C. let me introduce Grandma.
Victor’s gram is the moral fabric of the film. Anna Guzman is strict, religious and old-school when it comes to her three grand-kids’ upbringing. She constantly blames Victor for everything that goes wrong or any bad idea that materializes in either of his siblings’ heads, even while Victor remains a basically good kid.
Vargas Family Values… The Family that Prays Together… Another key element in today’s feature is that of the spiritual matte against which the story plays out. While Victor might easily berate his sister at home, he might demand respect for her in the community. And while this family may be a mishmash of half brothers and sisters, the familial underpinning is made strong by their grandmother, who represents old ways and customs and sound faith. In an important scene in “Raising Victor Vargas,” grandmother marches her wayward grandchildren to church to pray. Pictured as Victor kneels to pray is Victor’s half-sister, Vicki de la Cruz (Krystal Rodriquez), Nino and Grandma.
A trip the family makes together to a government agency where Gram attempts to get state help for kicking Victor out of her home is priceless. Yet it serves to underscore family unity, a strong churchgoing ethic and, ultimately, Grandmother’s own fear of losing the thing that matters most; the continuity of her own family.
“Raising Victor Vargas” could have fallen prey to any number of stereotypes and plot-lines but, thankfully, it focuses not he condition of the young people’s hearts and tells a story that might be told in any community. “Raising Victor Vargas is an attractive, compelling coming of age story that we strongly recommend.
Until next time. Enjoy!