"The BEST film OF THE YEAR!"
On a recent trip to SoFla, I had the chance to catch Sugar at one of those cheap arty theaters -- the ones which, in a perfect world, would be prolific and flush with people*. This one, well, wasn't. Which is too bad, because it was well worth the $5 to see this muted film about a Dominican baseball player (Algenis Perez Soto) trying to hack it as a minor-league prospect.
*Strangely, despite a decent amount of theaters that actually show real films sometimes, the whole Palm Beach/Broward/Dade area only had one theater showing Sugar. Strange.
(Hollywood.com with the pic)
Two things about Sugar -- 1) In a (very) small sample, it really is the best film I've seen in 2009 ... but here's hoping it gets passed. A lot. Because 2) It's little more than a nice movie, a well-made, realistic depiction of a story that, honestly, isn't earth-shatteringly compelling.
It follows the emotional journey, not so much the baseball one (although the two certainly are interlocked), of Miguel "Azucar" (Sugar) Santos, born into Dominican squalor but also born with an electric* right arm. He spends time at a local baseball academy, heads to Phoenix for spring training, then earns a spot in his club's (the fictional Kansas City Knights) system, on a Single-A team in ... rural Iowa. Obviously, a culture clash ensues -- Azucar barely speaks English -- although the clash is not of the cliched variety. Same thing when an injury temporarily sidelines our hero -- it's not as if his career is over, as would be the case in a formula-driven piece.
*Not literally. Now THAT would be -- wait, I'm gonna stop here before we really do get another one of those stupid comic book/superhero movies: The Electric Arm -- "Shockingly good!"
Really, this film sidesteps most cliches (although it does feature a cameo from everyone's favorite baseball bit player, the Performance Enhancing Drug). It's made very quietly, not bludgeoning us with backstory or unnecessary expository dialogue. Kudos to filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck for being hugely realistic here.
And yet ...
That realism almost gets Sugar in trouble. Because as the story unfolds (I could explain, but that would be spoiler-tastic), some of the events become decreasingly interesting. Non-fantasies/fairy tales/comedies should be realistic, but some things can be omitted. Sugar just doesn't seem to leave out much as it goes for the true-to-life thing. Which makes it drag a bit, dampening the end result.
Would I rather have this than some piece of formula fluff? Especially from a movie about sports? Absolutely. Still, for a film to reach true greatness, there must be more. Sugar the movie is a little -- not totally, but somewhat -- like sugar the substance: Empty.