By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
Not especially likable, Stevie is characterized by limited intelligence, poor impulse control, and a lifetime of abuse. An old psychological evaluation notes his "failed placements in every group home in southern Illinois." Abandoned by his mother, he was raised by her husband's parentsalong with a younger sister. Save for his mentally retarded "fiancée," Tonya, everyone is angry with Stevie about something, especially his aunt (who was herself sexually abused as a child). As Stevie's case drags on through various appeals, James counsels him to cop a plea. Stevie refuses. "Hell, this ain't your life," he pointedly tells his Boswell.
His affect alternating between the doleful and the stricken, James often seems to be wondering what he's doing on this planet of dogs, trailers, and pickup trucks, a place where nearly everyone is on SSI, the most dynamic form of cultural expression is glossolalia, and the Aryan Nation has a monopoly on political thought. He agonizes over interviewing Stevie's family members without telling Stevie and tries to establish some honest basis for their relationship. At one point, James treats Stevie and Tonya to a trip to Chicago. The filmmaker's wife, a social worker who specializes in counseling sex offenders, takes a far less indulgent view toward Stevie, who, not surprisingly, goes to a club and immediately begins self-medicating. "I was the idiot who allowed him to drink and stood by filming as he went out of control," James muses.
Foreigners often comment on the peculiar American combination of superficial friendliness and profound indifference. Stevie epitomizes a related national traitthe belief in the curative powers of publicity. By this logic, the appearance of therapy and the mouthing of appropriate jargon are identical with therapy itself. James feels badly that he deserted his little brother and wonders, not without reason, if their new, movie-based relationship is a form of exploitation. Repeatedly, the miserable-looking filmmaker assures Stevie (or himself) that he'll "be there" for him. With a camera in hand?
Directed by Steve James
Opens March 28, at Film Forum
Raising Victor Vargas
Written and directed by Peter Sollett
March 26, at Alice Tully Hall
March 27, at the Walter Reade
Opens March 28
Less steeped in documentary realness than Stevie and entirely unambivalent in its attitude toward its characters, Peter Sollet's Raising Victor Vargas is an antidote of sorts. This well-made, cheerful indieopening "New Directors/New Films" before it goes into commercial release Fridaycelebrates Loisaida teenagers as smart and engaging winners.
School is out and romantic intrigue is in. All over the neighborhood, persistent guys are madly scheming to get next to tough, sassy girls. Cute and vain 16-year-old Victor (Victor Rasuk) is pursuing pretty, diffident "Juicy Judy" (Judy Marte). Tender and funny, Raising Victor Vargas is essentially a comedy of manners, complete with incidental Mozart and three simultaneous courtshipsnot just Victor and Judy but also their younger siblings and best friends. Enjoying her own love affair with the camera: Victor's perpetually exasperated grandma (Altagracia Guzman).
"Making 'Victor Vargas'" by Patricia Thomson
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