DVD Review of "Sugar"
Tuesday, September 1, 2009; 12:00 AM
No matter how many triumphant home run tales you've experienced, chances are you haven't seen a baseball movie quite like "Sugar."
Understated, moving and grounded utterly in non-Hollywood reality, "Sugar" -- on DVD ($28.96) and Blu-ray ($39.95) today -- follows the journey of aspiring pitcher Miguel "Sugar" Santos from his familiar lush and lively hometown in the Dominican Republic to the foreign, flat lands of Iowa, where he struggles to rise from minor leaguer to MLB star. Despite partially sharing its setting with "Field of Dreams," though, the central mantra of this on-the-mound drama isn't, "If you build it, they will come." It's: "If he gets to America, can he make it?"
Discovering the surprising answer to that question is one of the central joys in this superb sophomore effort from co-writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and one of the many reasons moviegoers who missed this gem in theaters will be thrilled to find it now on DVD. This may be a fictional account of one young man's equal parts exciting and alienating arrival in the U.S., but all the details -- from the sweet, religious elderly couple who becomes his Iowa host family to the coach who gives him orders in a language he can't understand -- make it feel like a documentary.
Unfortunately, the bonus material on both the standard and Blu-ray releases is somewhat sparse, limited to three featurettes and a collection of five extraneous deleted scenes. "Play Béisbol! The Dominican Dream," may attract most interest from sports fans, as it features several Dominican-born ball players -- from Pedro Martinez to Daniel Cabrera, formerly with both the Orioles and the Nationals, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- discussing the many relatable moments in the film.
A making-of featurette, however, provides a bit more insight into the filmmaking process, which involved shooting on-location in the Dominican Republic and casting actual ballplayers, including the remarkably expressive Algenis Perez Soto in the lead role of Miguel "Sugar" Santos. ("I auditioned because they asked," Santos explains modestly, "but I never thought I would be cast as Miguel.")
One notable absence here is a commentary from Boden and Fleck. Even though filmmaker audio tracks have a tendency to swing from the dull to the self-absorbed, I suspect Boden and Fleck would have some worthwhile things to say about what they learned about the many Dominican athletes seeking fame beneath the hot lights of America's baseball stadiums. With "Sugar," they firmly establish themselves as a movie-making duo with intelligence and enormous talent. Here's hoping they're able to stay true to their visions, and that the studio system continues to allow them to make honest, fully realized character studies like this one.