‘Sugar’ doesn’t follow sports movie formula

For their previous film, the indie filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck explored the turmoil in a schoolteacher’s life, and “Half Nelson” was one of the best movies of its year.

Their follow-up picture has a completely different milieu, but the turmoil continues. “Sugar” is about a young Dominican baseball prospect, a pitcher whose entry into the U.S. minor-league system gives the filmmakers a much bigger canvas than just another sports story.

The central character is Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a teenager with a wicked curveball. He’s played by first-time actor Algenis Perez Soto, who has some baseball experience in his past.

In his village in the Dominican Republic, people keep asking Miguel when he’s going to the States. Everybody would like him to succeed, but maybe for their own reasons.

When Miguel is indeed whisked away to Iowa to play in the farm system of a fictitious major league club, the culture shock is intense. The only English words he knows are a handful of key baseball terms (“I got it! I got it!” for instance).

So it’s hard to express himself in the American heartland. Even ordering food is tricky; the only menu item at the local Denny’s he recognizes is French toast, and he just keeps getting it. Even for dinner. “The food is really sweet here,” he tells his family back home.

For the first half of the film, Miguel’s experiences feel pretty familiar. It’s in the final sections that Boden and Fleck begin to explore their real subject.

So many sports pictures are about the guy who makes it, the underdog who comes off the bench to score the winning touchdown or the game-ending basket. In the real world, those are the exceptions; “Sugar” is about the majority of sports hopefuls, the guys who have to struggle just to get on the lowest rung.

In telling that story, Boden and Fleck have set themselves a tough sell. Of course, Miguel’s journey isn’t the rule, either; what about young players who eagerly learn English, or enjoy traveling away from their homes?

And the movie has another hurdle: Where Ryan Gosling brought an exciting actor’s energy to “Half Nelson,” Algenis Perez Soto, while an appealing presence, does not bring anything similar to the game.

The little details are right, though. In the shots of a small-town ballpark next to a bridge, or the poignant way Miguel glimpses Yankee Stadium from an elevated train, Boden and Fleck show their feeling for uniquely American spaces and stories. And for showing them in a new way.

Talk to us

More in Life

The 2023 Infiniti QX80 has standard rear-wheel drive and optional four-wheel drive available on all models. (Infiniti)
2023 Infiniti QX80 is powerful and posh

A mighty V8 engine does the work while a luxurious interior provides the pleasure.

Artist Michelle Downes prepares to work on a few canvases in her garage workspace on Thursday, July 6, 2023, at her family’s home in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood artist Michelle Downes creates layered dreamscapes in resin

Resin is one part chemistry and one part artistry. Downes combines the two to make art that captures the imagination.

Kotor's zigzagging town wall rewards climbers with a spectacular view. (Cameron Hewitt / Rick Steves' Europe)
Rick Steves: Just south of Dubrovnik lies unpolished Montenegro

One of Europe’s youngest nations offers dramatic scenery, locals eager to show off their unique land, and a refreshing rough-around-the-edges appeal.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

TSR image for calendar
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

This weekend in Snohomish: The Snohomish Blues Invasion and the Snohomish Studio Tour 2023.

Made by Bruce Hutchison, the poster for “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is an homage to 1985 classic “The Goonies.” (Photo provided)
Indie film premiering on Whidbey Island

Filmed almost entirely on Whidbey Island, “A Momentary Diversion on the Road to the Grave” is set to premiere in Langley.

TSR image only
Does your elementary school child have ADHD?

It’s important to identify children with this condition so we can help them succeed in school.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

Most Read