Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) is one of the many young men vying for a treasured spot on the Kansas City Knights baseball farm school team in the Dominican Republic. His hot pitching arm gets him some attention, though, and he moves on to the minors in hopes of getting into the big league. But, what one dreams of having may be quite different from what one really wants in “Sugar.”
This no budgeter, by the writing/directing team (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden) who gave us “Half Nelson,” is done with a high gloss and big heart as it tells an everyman tale centered on Sugar Santos. He and his throwing arm are the sole hope for his extended family and Sugar works hard to make an impression on the Knights’s scouts. His blazing pitching attracts the appropriate attention and his dream comes true – he is sent to Iowa to join the minor league team, the Bridgeton Swing. His debut, though, is off to a rocky start when he walks his first batter and his new, successful life may be snatched away before it starts. One of his hometown buddies and team member convinces Sugar to relax and enjoy his introduction to the game. He does.
If you are expecting a typical rags to riches baseball story, you would be mistaken. “Sugar” is a rich character study of the title ball player and his metamorphosis into something greater than he could have expected – to live as a free and happy man doing what he really wants in his life. The telling of this story, the direction and the performances by its players make this a worthwhile see, even if you are not a baseball fan. I give it a B+.
This is one of my favorite movies of the year so far, a 'sports' movie that defies genre conventions, a film in three very different acts. Take "Bull Durham's" Annie Savoy and turn her into a couple of senior Pentacostal Iowans. Take "The Year of the Yao" by way of "The Lost Boys of Sudan." Add the melancholic charm and human connections of "The Visitor." Boden and Fleck have created an engrossing film with a cast of unknowns, all delivering with the ease of experience. Algenis Perez Soto's "Sugar" is someone you will be unlikely to forget. A-
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