I’ve desperately been seeking out ways to become more popular with the Everyview public, and after struggling to find success on my own, I sought out the help of my good friend Zac Pritcher for advice. Seeing as how he frequently calls me, usually in the middle of the night, to remind me how he towers over me in readership by a count of 782-to-1, I thought he’d have some good advice.
Well after giving me about a 15 minute lecture about interrupting his study habits (he’s cramming very hard as next week he finally becomes old enough to earn that ever elusive driver’s permit) his advice was for me to “continue doing what I do best,” which I guess is reviewing movies and TV shows no one is familiar with.
Call me a skeptic if you must, but I have my doubts on this one, and am curious if there was perhaps some underlining smarminess I didn’t pick up on. But either way I have no other ideas, so here it is my review of the indie baseball drama Sugar which found its way onto DVD shelves this week.
Sugar tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a young but talented emerging pitcher from the Dominican Republic, who’s been given a shot to come to America and work his way through the minor leagues in hopes of one day landing a spot on a Major League roster. The film chronicles not only Santos’ ups and downs on the field, but off it as well as he struggles to adjust to the vastly different cultural landscape of the American Midwest.
I was first drawn to this film when I saw it was the work of film making duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, who three years ago made the excellent Half Nelson, a movie chronicling the struggles of a teacher nursing a crippling drug addiction. While Nelson was hardly a box office smash, it did garner some major accolades (including a Best Actor Oscar nomination its star, Ryan Gosling) and seemingly opened the doors for Fleck and Boden to take a crack at mainstream success.
Instead, they did exactly what someone like me (a pretentious ass hole) loves to see and went in a completely different direction. A good portion of the dialogue in Sugar is in Spanish, which works very much in favor of the story. Much of the plot deals with the primary characters struggles adjusting to the new world he’s dropped into, and the language barrier is a major part of said struggle.
The movie has a lot of fun with the culture clash between the Dominican Sugar and the citizens of the Iowa farming community where he’s been assigned to play. This creates a few very funny moments, like an entire family gawking around him to gauge his reaction the first time he eats meat loaf, as it’s clearly impossible such a concoction could possibly have come about in his homeland.
The most impressive part of the movie is the performance by Algenis Perez Soto, who plays the title character. Going into this movie, I read Soto had never acted before and I must admit I was a bit concerned by this. There seems to be a growing trend among directors to give crucial parts in films to inexperienced actors. Sometimes this works, but often times it proves to be disastrous (see Gran Torino). Luckily for the filmmakers, they found themselves a diamond in the proverbial rough.
Soto is excellent in the lead role. Perhaps playing a fish-out-of-water character proved beneficial to his performance as he too was entering into a new world. I was very engaged by his performance, and am hopeful he will continue acting, as I’m intrigued to see what else he’s capable of.
The only thing that didn’t really work for me were the baseball scenes. I’ve seen a lot of movies about baseball, and while this hardly ranks with the worst depictions of the game, I wasn’t blown away by the game footage either. This comes as a bigger surprise as the aforementioned Soto actually has a background as an amateur baseball player. Maybe the fact he never achieved Major League greatness shows he ended up taking the right path in life.
This is not a movie for everyone. Aside from the large doses of Spanish dialogue, it also moves at a fairly slow pace, and never really has a specific big moment that is going to knock you off your feet. But if you enjoy thorough character based movies that are more focused on delivering human insight as opposed to big jolts of action, this is a movie you will likely enjoy.
With this move, Fleck and Boden prove Half Nelson was no fluke. On the surface, both the movie genres they are working withing (sports movie, teacher trying to reach kids with his unorthodox methods) are the two genres that create the greatest possibilities have stories bogged down in cliches. It’s a true testament to their talent that they are able to make such engrossing and original pictures out of seemingly unoriginal ideas. They offer proof a good movie can be made out of any story and they are directors I very much look forward to following for years to come.
Final Score: 8.5/10
- Well acted
- Well made
- An engaging and well told story
- Underwhelming baseball scenes
- Not for everyone (this isn’t such a con to me personally, but some will find the movie boring)