Please ignore the fact this film has an instantly forgettable, cookie-cutter title. Disregard the pleasant but vague poster. Get over the fact that you will not recognize a single actor or the first-time feature director. Just listen to me when I say that Raising Victor Vargas is perhaps the most realistic, funny, and enjoyable teen romance that I’ve seen since Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love. I don’t know when the last time was that I was literally grinning through an entire movie, so thoroughly enjoying not only the great young (and non-professional) cast, but really caring that Everything Will Turn Out OK. (Since this IS a movie, of course everything does.)
The titular Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) is a self-proclaimed teenage Cassanova, to whom we are introduced in the opening shot as he does a sexy (and hilariously adorable) striptease for a neighbor girl, Fat Donna. The seduction gets thwarted by interruption, and report of his questionable antics spread instantly through the neighborhood via the unstoppable wildfire of teen gossip. To save face, Victor and his buddy Harold go to the public pool to hit on beautiful ice-queen “Juicy” Judy (Judy Marte) and her mousy friend Melonie (Melonie Diaz). The girls, no fools, instantly rebuff the sweet-talking boys. Thus begins the charming and funny courtship of Victor and Judy.
What is not to like about this film? The actors are all fresh faces, with no overblown egos getting in the way of the story. The dialogue is both funny and realistic. The mood of a sweltering summer in New York City is like supporting character in the film, with golden shimmering cinematography that makes even the city slums look like a sort of teen paradise. The supporting cast is so well-developed, from Victor’s bitchy younger sister Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez), to mousy-but-blossoming Melonie, that you can help but adore them all. And did I mention Victor’s scene-stealing grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), a Dominican immigrant who has raised her three grandkids on her own, who is both dominating and affectionately (and hilariously) over-protective? Guzman, a first-time actress, is one of those characters that effortlessly steals every scene that she is in, so much so that you can’t imagine that she is even acting at all.
With his first feature film, director Peter Sollett has knocked this one out of the ballpark. I’ll happily place Raising Victor Vargas in the pantheon of one of the best slice-of-life teen romances I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see what Sollett comes up with next.