As the baseball season draws to a close (I'm a Mariner fan, so yes, the baseball season is indeed coming to a close soon), I look back on a film I recently watched called Sugar, about a young Dominican pitcher who is drafted by a professional baseball team and moves to America with hopes of becoming a star. It's a worthwhile drama that takes a look at minor league baseball, but never really tells the audience what the point is.
Algenis Perez Soto stars as Miguel "Sugar" Santos. Miguel has a girlfriend, but his relationship is put to the test when he is transported into Single-A ball in small-town America. He moves in with an elderly couple that often hosts young players such as him, and despite not knowing much English begins to make friends with his teammates and the couple's teenage daughter. His pitching performances get better and better, leading to promotions, but off-the-field drama causes his mind to wander and his career to suffer.
Sugar succeeds primarily on its acting performances. This is Soto's first professional role, and he does a fine job portraying the up-and-coming title character. He's cocky about his future and yet unsure about his presence, intrigued by his new surroundings and yet trapped in a place that is nothing like what he knows. Had Soto not been up to the task, the movie would have fallen apart at the seams; though there are a variety of supporting characters in the film, none of them persist from beginning to end - Soto really is on his own for the most part.
Unfortunately, the movie itself, while interesting, never establishes the narrative it wants to tell. If anything, the movie is a snapshot of Sugar's minor league career, but what directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck intended as the point of this film is hard to determine. Sugar feels realistic, but the lack of a strong set of supporting characters results in a lack of dramatic weight; Sugar has no one to interact with, and when conflict arises, he tends to just run away.
While the first two acts flow pretty well, the third act veers wildly off course, and not for the better. As soon as the movie shifts away from its baseball focus, it loses its bearing and purpose; I was confused by the decisions Sugar made and how he ended up in the places he went. Then the movie ends, with no sense of resolution or climax. It's as if the directors said, "OK, we've told enough of his story," shrugged and then rolled the ending credits, but this just isn't enough. The movie feels incomplete.
Sugar presents a strong inaugural performance from Soto and offers up an interesting story, but the third act is a disappointment. The creative staff's inability to focus the story results in a movie that never quite clicks.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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