2008 // USA // Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck // September 13, 2009 // DVD - Sony (2009)
B - Given that their previous film, Half Nelson, featured a borderline outlandish premise, it's intriguing that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck would tackle a story like Sugar, which concerns itself with mediocrity and universal experiences. Decisively rejecting sports movie cliché, Boden and Fleck's latest film follows the rise and fall of Miguel "Sugar" Santos (Algenis Perez Soto), a Dominican pitcher with dreams of Yankee Stadium and a new Cadillac, cultivated at the Caribbean training camp for a big league franchise. Sugar's narrative is comprised of arcs of hope and despair, as Santos journeys into the American farm teams, where he contends with culture shock and the awful realization that he is not, in fact, hot shit. Boden and Fleck occasionally aim for facile melodrama—Sugar falls for an Iowa farm girl!—but the film truly engages when it simply observes how an athlete manages the insufferable tangle of expectations from without and within. Boden and Fleck suggest that commercial athletics all too often treats players as commodities, extinguishing their joy of sport before tossing them aside. To say that Sugar is subversive is too strong, but it is refreshing and commendably precise in its evocation of mood.