Sugar Review: Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
SUGAR: On general UK release from Friday 5th June 2009
Generally speaking there aren’t that many good sports movies; they’re often riddled with cliché and plot ground so well trodden you could use it as a ploughed field. And when was the last good film about baseball made? Field of Dreams in 1989 – 20 years ago! Thankfully, Sugar is less about sports metaphors and slow motion clockwatching and more about a young man trying to find a place to fit in the world.
Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is a young baseball pitcher from the Dominican Republic on the minor league baseball circuit who attends a special US academy designed to farm and select prospective new talent. They’re trained how to play baseball, how to speak English, and how to adapt to their prospective new American lives which they all aspire to.
He and his fellow classmates have their heads full of the idealistic American dream. “The first thing I’m going to do is buy a Cadillac and drive it across the ocean,” Sugar says to his girlfriend. But when the call finally comes to Bridgetown, Iowa, Sugar finds out that perhaps baseball isn’t what he wants after all.
Mixing with girls and introduced to rock music, he starts to see a whole other world he wasn’t aware of and one he wouldn’t be able to have if he was confined to the world of baseball and the pressures of having to succeed all the time start to take their toll.
It’s the story of someone not quite good enough for the big leagues, someone who wants to make something of himself, someone caught up in the ideals of the American Dream but ultimately doesn’t know what he wants out of life.
Algenis Perez Soto is excellent as Sugar. Reserved and subtle, his performance is remarkable for an untrained actor and his first time on screen. In the same way that Million Dollar Baby and Raging Bull aren’t about boxing, Sugar isn’t really about baseball. The sport is merely a framework, a vehicle for telling the story of an individual. Directors Boden and Fleck made a good decision to follow one person rather than the fate of a team and this makes for much more personal viewing – the periodic over-shoulder camera work helps us see things from Sugar’s point of view (much in the same way as it did with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler).
Sugar should be commended for its inventive use of storytelling, exposing the almost factory-like efficiency of US baseball schools and its heartfelt portrayal of a young man not quite good enough to make the big time.
And not a sports cliché in sight.