Long Way Home
Its Tough to be a Saint in the City
Running Time: 88 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Sometimes constraints of budget allow small independent projects to come across as much more cosy and intimate than their larger-scale Hollywood counterparts. This is certainly true of Peter Sollett's 'Raising Victor Vargas', which seems all the more personal and naturalistic because most of its main characters have the same first name as the actors who play them.
Set in a Hispanic community in New York, it is a frank and well-observed account of a young man's coming-of-age. As the oldest male living with his grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), sister Vicki (Krystal Rodriguez) and brother Niño (Silvestre Rasuk), in theory Victor (Victor Rasuk) should be the father figure in his household, but he is more interested in sexual escapades. Victor wants local beauty Judy (Judy Marte) to become his girlfriend, in part to salvage his reputation after he has been caught out with Donna (Donna Maldonado), the fat girl upstairs – and Judy in turn agrees to say that Victor is her boyfriend in order to deflect the unwanted attentions of the other males in the neighbourhood. Yet as Victor's relationship with Judy gradually shifts from lust and expedience to more genuine affection and respect, Victor's traditional, rigidly Catholic grandmother decides that she has had enough of the bad example that he sets for his siblings, and imposes ever more excessive restrictions on the behaviour of her grandchildren. In the ensuing clash of generations and cultures, Victor and his siblings must learn to grow up and his grandmother must learn to let them.
If you are a Latino with a strict religious upbringing living in New York, then no doubt 'Raising Victor Vargas' will strike a real chord with you. If not, then what this film has to offer is some keen, highly particularised anthropological insight, some understated, convincing performances, and a script that marries realism with unobtrusive symbolism. Although it may not be the most ambitious of movies, its economy and no-nonsense style are to be admired, and the sexual blossoming of Vicki, Judy, and especially Judy's best friend Melonie (Melonie Diaz), is portrayed with a subtle charm that is the perfect antidote to films like 'American Pie'. Indeed, it is a relief to see a movie which for once takes teenagers seriously and shows that their rites of passage, far from being merely the source of crude jokes, can be a period of great uncertainty and profound moral development.
It's Got: An impressive all-Hispanic cast in an unflinching depiction of male and female adolescence, young love and the generation gap.
It Needs: More scenes with Grandma Guzman first-timer Altagracia Guzman rips through her scenes like an unstoppable force of nature.
Teen coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen, but 'Raising Victor Vargas' stands out for its earnestness and authenticity as it portrays the vulnerabilities and uncertainties which underlie adolescent hormones and machismo.