[Film Fest] Just when it looked as though Sundance 2008 would provide the most uninspired crop of American Dramatic Competition Films in my memory … well, that's pretty much still true. But at least I can walk away from it all having seen one great piece of filmmaking.
The film is Sugar, the second feature from the Half Nelson team of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and they continue to combine a powerful naturalism with a refusal to allow that “naturalism” to become “tedium.”
The story follows Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Pérez Soto), a 19-year-old professional pitching prospect, from a training academy in his native Dominican Republic through spring training and his first minor-league assignment in a small Iowa town. The expected culture shock ensues—only knowing enough English to order one breakfast from the diner menu; enjoying hotel-room porn; eating meat loaf with the nice farm family he stays with—but Sugar is more than a fish-out-of-water tale. In the course of exploring a very specific milieu, Fleck and Boden capture something universal about the appeal of America as a land of dreams, and the collision of those dreams with harder realities. Low-key yet engrossing performances from the entire cast contribute to a tremendous piece of human drama. Turns out my sports draft analogy from yesterday was more appropriate than I knew; there’s an obvious #1 pick after all. (Scott Renshaw)