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
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
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
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.
to tell Filthy Something