A review of “Raising Victor Vargas” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, sexuality

Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

 

 

Cultural stereotypes get a light spanking in this fresh look at a sexual coming-of-age in Manhattan’s gritty Lower East Side.

Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) is a cocky, barrio-bred Casanova who only has eyes for neighborhood beauty “Juicy Judy” Ramirez (Judy Marte).  Unfortunately, Victor is on intimate terms with rejection, as his Don Juan tactics are still in their maturation stages.  After some embarrassing fits and starts, Judy agrees to tolerate Victor’s advances, reluctantly crowning him her “new man”.  Quick as a wink, Victor is king in his ‘hoods social hierarchy.

The stumbling blocks of sexual maturity are just half the battle in this well-crafted tale of adolescent hubris.  Victor’s cantankerous Dominican grandmother (Altagracia Guzman) is struggling to raise three teenaged kids on her own, continually pitching fits over the sexual role-modeling that Victor is trotting out for his younger brother and sister.  Forced to maintain (and perpetually regain) his grandmother’s trust at the same time that he’s exploring his own needs, Victor is a man-boy with a lot on his salaciously-addled mind.

“Vargas” is a sweet film with a solid message about the mating-game learning curve.  Its low-budget aura is perfectly in tune with its sweltering inner-city setting, and the story has just the right sense of when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  Rasuk is sheer adolescent bluster, a young Vin Diesel with confidence to burn.  Tender, funny, and ripe with feeling.