Raising Victor Vargas [2002]

Riding high on a wave of unanimous critical acclaim, Raising Victor Vargas emerged as one of the best independent films of 2003. It fits neatly into that most familiar of categories--the coming-of-age comedy--but transcends that label to become something altogether fresh and endearing, beginning with the awkward swagger of its title character, played by Victor Rasuk. He's a Dominican kid raised amidst the poverty of New York's Lower East Side, and his hormones--like those of any 16-year-old--are ablaze with unbridled lust. Under the vigilant eye of his grandmother (who's hilariously convinced the good-boy Victor is doomed to a life of sin), Victor manages to woo the defiant girl of his dreams (Judy Marte--like the rest of this fine cast, a non-professional actor), and director Peter Sollett (expanding his earlier short Five Feet High and Rising) guides them to a delicate place of genuine affection and mutual understanding. It's a summertime fantasy, of sorts, but so simple and sincere that it achieves a state of idealized realism. First love never looked better. --Jeff Shannon

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