Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Sugar

Sugar has dreamed and worked his whole life for a chance to go to the United States – a land so perfect they make Cadillacs that can drive on water. He’s a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic who throws a sweet curveball. Unfortunately though, baseball is a game, he is told, where you only get one chance – and curveballs have a way of getting away from you.

“Sugar” follows young Sugar as he’s called up to spring training, taught enough English to get by, and told to work hard. A running joke is that the young players eat a lot of French toast because they don’t know how to order their preferred “eggs, sunny side up.” How Sugar finally gets his eggs with the help of a sympathetic waitress is typical of the many warm moments that fill movie.

It’s a sports movie, but not one that follows the usual clich├ęs. It doesn’t build to a big climactic confrontation between Sugar and some evil, squinty-eyed power hitter. Its rhythms are much more gentle and unpredictable. And the only villain is harsh reality, so many pitchers, so few opportunities.

Because of this, “Sugar” is a very sweet, very likeable movie. Like that waitress, most people Sugar encounters on his journey want to help him and want him to succeed, and so do we. He’s played with infinite charm by first time actor Algenis Periz Soto and his intentions are so selfless. All he wants is a better life for his mom back home.

I watch a lot of movies and it comes as such a pleasure to find one with a story that doesn’t feel Hollywood-like. This instead feels like the natural, inevitable flowing forward of events that would grow out of this character while following this path. It has the feel of his catching a bus, but not knowing its destination. When he finds himself headed to Bridgeport, IA, he turns to a teammate and asks, “Where’s ee-ah?”

The greatest pleasures of “Sugar” are spending time with the well-meaning and helpful souls Sugar meets along the way.

While playing Class A ball in Bridgeport, he is lodged with a family that has long been housing young hopefuls for the local minor league team. Aging Earl and Helen Higgins and their pretty teenage daughter Anne have one duty, to keep a player safe, well fed, and his mind focused on the game.

They fail at the last part, but all benefit greatly as thoughts and feelings stray off topic. The scenes between Sugar and Anne are especially complex, troubling for her, confusing for him. And, perhaps, the finest scene in the movie is when Sugar says, “Sorry,” before embracing Earl, eyes sobbing.

Sugar seems a young man whose only hope is recording Ks, but the source of the movie’s ultimate hopefulness is its gradual uncovering of another talent, inherited from his late father. The story ends in New York City, as have so many stories of immigrants, not to mention of baseball. And it is there that he meets the next great father of his life.

So why is he named Sugar? He says it’s because he’s sweet with the ladies. He also claims it’s because he has a sweet knuckle-curve. One of his teammates quips it’s because he so loves dessert. All of these prove true, but the real truth is that he earns the nickname every day with everything he does.

And this movie truly earns its title as well.

“Sugar” is rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use.