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True Romance

By: Diane VadinoThe young stars of Raising Victor Vargas demonstrate whytheir film is not another teen movie

Take the urban nihilism of Larry Clark, but subtract the teen porn; add the adolescent pop of Hollywood, but subtract the crude pie-humping, and what you have is the tender coming-of-age film Raising Victor Vargas. Set on Manhattan’s LowerEast Side, writer/director Peter Sollett’s debut feature follows the sexual awakening of its 16-year-old protagonist, a would-be player who still lives with his grandmother. Like many of the film’s stars, leading man Victor Rasuk, 19, is an untrained amateur who grew up in the largely Dominican neighborhood. He says he based his character on “friends of friends, playboy–or L.L. Cool J-type guys,” though he’s quick to add, “I don’t think every guy’s priority is, like, wanting to sleep with the hottest girl.”

The experimental casting is a risk that pays off for Victor Vargas, because the story of how Victor wins over local lust object “Juicy” Judy (played by Judy Marte, 19)–and how she allows herself to be won over–has a sincerity that can’t be faked. Displaying the same earnestness that informed her screen performance, Marte is quick to give credit to Sollett, who provided no written dialogue for the cast. “Everybody’s just being themselves,” she says. “I don’t think I know how to act, but I do know how to be truthful to myself.” The result is a film that could have happened only at this time and in this place, rather than in a studio executive’s pitch meeting. The homegrown approach had practical benefits, too: “Sometimes we were working two blocks from where I live,” says Rasuk. “I had no excuses for being late.”