Baseball Is a Young Dominican's Ticket to the US
Sugar (2008) is an atypical baseball movie, but it's also a peculiar immigrant's story, and above all, it's the tale of a young man struggling to find his place in the world. The film was written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously did Half Nelson. Although Sugar is fictional, it feels authentic.
A lot of professional baseball players come from the Dominican Republic, and this movie shows why. Major league teams have set up training centers in the DR, and the film opens at one of these, where we meet a promising young pitcher named Miguel Santos (Algenis Pérez Soto). His nickname is Azúcar, Spanish for sugar. Miguel dreams of becoming a star player, making big bucks, and lifting his family members out of their grinding poverty.
A substantial chunk of the movie takes place in Iowa, where Miguel ends up playing minor league ball. He lives with a local family who are goodhearted and well-meaning, but try as he might, he just doesn't fit in. Pérez Soto's expressive face achingly captures Miguel's loneliness, and somehow the presence of a pretty, churchgoing teenage girl in the household only makes him feel worse.
Sugar was shot at visually interesting locations in the DR, Arizona, Iowa and the Bronx, and the use of soundtrack music is excellent. The majority of the dialog is in Spanish, but a considerable amount of English is heard. The filmmakers avoided melodrama, but they nonetheless managed to quietly build to an emotionally powerful ending.
DVD Bonus Materials
The Sugar DVD provides over 40 minutes of video extras, which are in English.
One of these is a reasonably good 15-minute making-of featurette. This gives you a chance to hear from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the married couple who wrote the movie together, then directed it together. They employed a baseball consultant, who claims there's a saying about the Dominican Republic: "You can only leave the island two ways. It's by swinging a bat or by throwing a ball."
For the baseball fan, there's the 13-minute "Play Béisbol! The Dominican Dream," which has brief statements at a film festival in the DR by several well-known professional baseball players from that country. The two most famous are pitching great Pedro Martínez and slugging legend Sammy Sosa. According to this featurette, 15 percent of the major league baseball players are Dominican born, as are 30 percent of minor leaguers.
There's also an interesting four-and-a-half-minute interview with lead actor Algenis Pérez Soto, done when the filmmakers were casting the movie. Something like 500 guys were considered for the role of Miguel, but Pérez Soto, who is somewhat reminiscent of Will Smith, has natural charisma. When asked to tell a joke, Pérez Soto responds with an amusing little story.
Finally, there are five deleted scenes with a total runtime of eight minutes. The most entertaining of these is where Miguel is doing his washing at a Laundromat and an attractive woman enlists his aid in folding her fresh-out-of-the-dryer clothing, which includes some of her intimate apparel.
Below I have listed all the details for the DVD containing Sugar.
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Content, Language and Brief Drug Use
Aspect Ratio 1.78:1, Color
Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Making Sugar: Run the Bases (15 min.)
Play Béisbol! The Dominican Dream (13 min.)
Casting Sugar: Interview With Algenis Pérez Soto (4 1/2 min.)
Deleted Scenes (5 scenes, total runtime = 8 min.)