This week:
Raising Victor Vargas

Filthy says:
"This is the shit, for reals.

Ah, Springtime. When the sun climbs northward in the sky and green buds appear on the long-dormant trees. The ducks in Ralston Creek are pairing off and disappearing into the rushes. It's when we in Colorado shed our long coats and mittens. As the earth turns green, something happens to us all. Emerging from reclusive lifestylee of winter we have renewed energy and confidence. Whatever happened before the first sow fell is forgotten when the tulips bloom.

Young men's thoughts turn to puppy love, and feeling assured, boys will do just about anything to turn the heads of the girls of their dreams. Seriously, a boy will do just about anything, including a lot of stupid shit that, even decades later, will send a shiver down his spine and make him flinch simply remembering it. It's all about learning from our indiscretions, so we don't make them again. At least not until we're old enough to drink enough to drown them out of our consciousness.

Raising Victor Vargas is a tale of puppy love, sweet and real. It's a small film with a cast of unknowns that takes place in Manhattan's Lower East Side. It doesn't really have anything new to say about boys and girls, but it's so genuine and so on-target that it's more than worth checking out.

I remember my first crush. Well, the first one on a girl. Before that I had one on Santa Claus. Something about that warm knee and the tickly beard, but that bastard broke my heart. The first girl I ever had a crush on, though, was Vicky Lawrence. I can't really remember why, except that the popular guys already had dibs on the girls I really liked. One warm spring back in the 80s, I had all the confidence in the world and as we sat in Social Studies, I slipped a note to Tommy Bertini to pass on to her. Being very into Basic computer programming, I had drawn a little robot and wrote an if-else statement for her to follow down to two choices. If she liked me she had to check a box that said as much and send it back. If she didn't, she was sent into an endless do loop where she would be forced to "Go fuck yourself" for eternity. It was terribly romantic.

Lucky for her, she checked the "Yes" box and sent the note back. This when I got the cold feet. I mean, having a girl like me and all was pretty great, but actually talking to her could open me up to a whole new world of misery. I bolted from school as soon as the last bell rang. That night, I lay in bed, sweating and shaking. What did she mean by "Yes." I mean, did she means it in the same way I meant it, i.e. "I like you so I am going to tell everyone we're going steady, but I don't really know anything about sex and don't have any pubic hair yet so I don't want to get close or touch."

By morning, I wasn't even sure whether Vicky knew what she was doing when she answered my note. So, I sent her another one, similar to the first, except with C3PO with big boobs asking the question. Again the answer came back a yes, which, of course meant I couldn't go to the roller skating party that afternoon because there would surely be a "couples" skate. What if I had to hold her hand, and I fell and my pants got torn and she saw my wiener?

The next day, I thought I better check our status and sent my girlfriend another note. My confidence in this whole girlfriend thing had waned, and my note was far less elaborate. It just said, "you don't have to like me if you don't want, OK?" with check boxes for "OK" and "Not OK." She never returned that note, or even made eye contact with me.

So, my question is, are Vicky and I still going steady or what?

Victor Vargas (Victor Rasuk) is almost 18, has cool hair and a lanky body that he loves to show off. He lives in a dingy three-room apartment with his family. He fancies himself the Casanova of the Lower East Side, pretty certain that he's handsome and positive that girls can't resist his charm. That's in theory and in conversation with his friends. In practice, he's as tongue tied around the opposite sex as the rest of us. When he meets tough-talking Judy (Judy Marte), he's beat down by her rejection. But only long enough for him to go away and build himself back up.

Rasuk is at an awkward age, one that he'll likely grow out of. I never quite made it. It's an age when hormones dictate desire, but maturity controls ability. You want to seem macho and independent, cool as shit, but you still live at home, share a room with your siblings and are under the thumb of your strict Catholic grandmother. That's not exactly my situation, but I assume my wants and maturity are out of whack if I can still spend $30 in quarters trying to get a 98 Degrees sticker from that stupid fucking vending machine at the Safeway. On top of that, the kid lives in a community where the fathers aren't exactly good role models. Rasuk admires his father for the number of women he married and children he squired without taking care of any of them. He wants to be Casanova, but he lives at home. He has no independence, and he doesn't have enough experience to support his bluster.

Rasuk's grandmother (Altagracia Guzman) thinks he's a bad influence on his siblings. He introduces his little sister to a boy, and Guzman thinks he's taught his bother (Silviestre Rasuk) to masturbate. She tries to give him to social services and kick him out, but he isn't eighteen. She doesn't trust anyone or want him dating Marte.

Eventually, Rasuk wins over Marte (and his grandmother) with the last resort of a desperate man: honesty. And the movie, god bless it, is honest, too. There isn't any big revelation, no showy scene, just honesty. Rather than talk a good game, Rasuk introduces Marte to his fucked up family and to his small life. And when he lets down his guard, so does she. Rasuk isn't really a bad kid, but he acts like one. Marte is a strong woman, something Hollywood forgot about a long time ago. She acts as tough as Rasuk, and she doesn't let anyone close, even though she badly wants someone near her.

Raising Victor Vargas isn't about anything special. We've all had crushes and made mistakes. But it's so fucking nice to see a story told without makeup or a shiny coat of Hollywood softener. And the characters are so real. There are no big dramatic moments, no car chases or shitty, sappy monologues, just some genuinely funny comedy and real drama. It's naturalistic; you can see the girls' pimples and the guys' sweaty backs.

The actors, almost all amateurs, give uneven but strong performances. When in doubt, they seem to choose underacting, which is a smart pick., Rasuk and his younger brother have the coolest nappy 'fros I've ever seen. For a long time I wanted a white man's afro, but I couldn't find a hair school that would do it for free. Marte is pretty but she looks like a teenage girl, not a stripper. That's okay when I get wrapped up in the story. If the story sucks, I'd rather she look, and act, like a slutty stripper.

Raising Victor Vargas is a pretty shitty title. It makes it sound like someone's trying to write a sensitive coming-of-age story. Well, I guess this is one, but it ain't a stupid one. It's the kind of movie that makes you want to stop making fun of teenagers. For maybe an hour or so. Four Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something


Filthy's Reading
James Ledbetter - Starving to Death on $200 Million

Listening to
Ry Cooder - Buena Vista Social Club


Mulholland Drive

Mark S. Allen of Premiere Radio Network

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