Starring: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland
Directed by: Anna Boden (“Half Nelson”) and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”)
Written by: Anna Boden (“Half Nelson”) and Ryan Fleck (“Half Nelson”)
Is a dream worth fighting for even if it’s inevitably unreachable? That is one of the questions directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck pose in their sports drama “Sugar,” the story of a Dominican baseball player who lives only to reach the major leagues in America.
Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Soto) breathes baseball. In his home country of the Dominican Republic, coaches churn out star players like they were on a conveyer belt in a manufacturing plant. Sugar gets his shot when he is called up to a minor league team in Iowa to start his semi-professional career as a pitcher. Not only is it an opportunity for Sugar to play the sport he has excelled at his entire life, the move to the U.S. is a chance to help his poverty-stricken family.
“Sugar” is a triumphant immigration tale, which follows our protagonist through all the difficulties he has adjusting to his new world. While Sugar takes English classes in between his baseball lessons in the first half of the film, the words and phrases taught to him are only ones beneficial to him on the playing field. “Ground ball” and “homerun” just aren’t everyday words that will help Sugar break through his language barrier. Every non-Spanish speaking character in the film knows this, so it’s hard to believe why they continue to talk to him in English when he’s staring back at them blankly.
Natural in his delivery, Soto, who looks like a young Blaire Underwood, plays Sugar a bit more reserved than the character deserves. There are other small traits that throw us for a loop, especially when Sugar decides later in the film that baseball might not be what he was destined to do with his life. It’s a believable scenario, but one that seems to come on entirely too quickly. One day Sugar is a great pitcher, the next day he’s washing dishes.
Still, at the end of it all, “Sugar” is a thematically-strong narrative about the fear and self-doubt everyone experiences sometime in their life. It’s also about finding a realistic path toward something that makes you feel like you are truly swinging for the fences even if you’re not playing baseball.