Editors' pick

Sugar

Sugar movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
The story of Miguel Santos, a Dominican pitcher struggling to make it to the big leagues.
Starring: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Ann Whitney
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Running time: 2:00
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Editorial Review

In 2007 Ryan Gosling earned his first Oscar nomination for "Half Nelson," an astonishingly good debut by the writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. With the moving, absorbing drama "Sugar," Boden and Fleck not only avoid the sophomore slump, they demolish it, delivering a film of rare intelligence, beauty and compassion.

The film's title refers to its main character, Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a teenage baseball player in the Dominican Republic, who, early in the film, is recruited to a triple-A ball club in rural Iowa. Living with a devout elderly couple and striking up a tentative friendship with their granddaughter, Sugar, played by nonprofessional actor Algenis Perez Soto, navigates an entirely foreign life, including ordering food in English (he can manage only "French toast"), coping with the pressures of big-league scouts and competitive teammates, and finally coming to terms with his own version of the American dream.

Boden and Fleck have an easy, unhurried style, which suits this story well, especially in capturing the lilting rhythms of a minor-league baseball game on a balmy summer night. In Soto, they have found a natural screen presence, whose expressive physical grace conveys emotion all the more heartbreaking for being so understated. Most important, the filmmakers genuinely respect not only their title character but also everyone he meets, even Midwestern churchgoers who in so many other indie movies would be reduced to punch lines. "Sugar" gets the sports right, which will guarantee its appeal to baseball fans. But more important, it gets the soul right, which makes it a must-see for everyone. It's a home run.

-- Ann Hornaday (May 1, 2009)

Contains profanity, sexuality and drug use. In English and Spanish with subtitles.