DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Sugar

Thursday 27 August 2009


Sugar (2009) dir. Anna Borden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Ellary Porterfield, Ann Whitney


Baseball was never rendered more boring than as it is depicted in Ryan Fleck and Anna Borden’s “Sugar”. The story of the culture shock of a Dominican minor leaguer playing ball in the U.S. seems a conscious effort not to make a ‘sports film’ purposely avoiding all opportunities to stroke the audience’s expectations and desires to see the lead character succeed. Though there's value in the attempt to subvert a genre in the name of realism but it unfortunately results in one long anti-climax and an emotionally distant and cold film about a warm subject.

Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) lives a poor and simple life devoted to family and baseball. He’s got a wicked ‘knuckle-curve’ which has made him a successful firethrower in the Dominican minors. His dream comes true when he and a trio of his teammates get the call to play Single-A ball with the Kansas City farm team in Bridgetown. Santos thus has to leave his loving family and girlfriend for the big bad USA.

The Midwest life couldn’t be more different. He’s boarded by a god-fearing but welcoming elderly couple with a long list of house rules and, of course, no one speaks Spanish other then a few of his fellow players . The language barrier and his inherent shyness makes it difficult for him to make friends outside of his Dominican teammates. Santos’ dream starts to crumble when his friends one-by-one leave the team, and a playing slump puts him in the bullpen. His all-around homesickness leads him to near depression prompting him to go back and find the source of his inspiration.

Borden and Fleck try really hard to maintain some kind of honest integrity to the life of a Dominican ballplayer. Unfortunately Algenis Soto just doesn't have the chops to carry the picture. He mopes around the entire film with a sullen and sad look, barely even cracking a smile even when things are going good for him.

The goals of Santos and the underlying purpose of the film is just as precarious. We get it, "Sugar" is not about the triumph of sport, nor is it about the American dream, nor is it about even baseball. In the third act, Santos inexplicably leaves the team and his dream to find his old Dominican teammate who left baseball (which kinda comes off with homosexual suggestions?). 'Not that there's anything wrong with that,' but if it’s a character film, this bait and switch might have worked if we actually liked him and if he were a strong actor like a Ryan Gosling, who in Half Nelson who triumphed over his weak and paperthin script. Otherwise it becomes dull and lifeless.

We probably don’t need to dwell too much more on the details but a number of plot threads are left hanging, plot threads which would seem to move in the direction of mainstream genre expectation, but leave us hanging. A potential relationship between Santos and the young granddaughter of the elder couple teases us. Subtle glances and coy flirting leads to a move for first base by Santos, but is rejected by the bible-thumping tease. That’s the end of that relationship, without barely a word and reflection. This narrative and emotional failure sums up the film.

So it’s a nice try but the only thing the directorial pair reveal is that with a joy for the sport baseball is dreary and boring. If that’s the point, that they have succeeded, but it’s not a movie I need to see.

"Sugar" is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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