Raising Victor Vargas
9 filmmakers out of 10 would focus their cameras on the guys who utter the immortal pick-up line, "Yo, which one of y'all wants to get fucked in the doody hole?" Thankfully, Peter Sollett presents those dudes as road hazards to step around for Judy, the innocent teenager who catches the eye of our fascinating titular protagonist, played brilliantly by Victor Rasuk in the best lead male performance of the year so far (right on his heels is Martin Compston's equally complex kid in Sweet Sixteen
Rasuk creates a character that's all charming bravado masking intense insecurity and unwavering romanticism. Tim Orr has photographed him handsomely, using filters and film stocks that shoot New York City as if it were painted with Victor's skin tones. The 19 year-old Dominican could really go places if he doesn't get shoehorned by Hollywood into tiny ethnic stereotype roles. Furthermore, the talent he displays perfecting his own image is matched by the generosity he shows in his love scene with Judy (Judy Marte), a scene that has one of the most well-earned (and breathtaking) first kisses I've seen on screen in some time.
Equally touching is the love scene between Rasuk's and Marte's friends, two kids having an affair on the side (and on the down low). Once Harold tells Melonie her hair looks pretty when it's down, she never wears it up again. Sollett has made a refreshingly realistic love story to match All The Real Girls
(also shot by Tim Orr), this year's other moving indie romance. And in doing so he's taken care to treat his entire ensemble with respect, even giving the 72 year-old grandmother an arc instead of sticking her in a thankless one-dimensional ashamed Catholic old lady role. The film seems to come up one dramatic event short of a full plot (clocking in at about 85 minutes or so), like it ends before we feel we've totally moved with these characters to a different place, but the total absence of cliche or contrivance is well worth the sacrifice.