Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck of 'Sugar': A Cinematic Team on a Field of Broken Dreams

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009

One word keeps popping up when you're talking to Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Indescribable.

The filmmakers, who in 2006 made a stunning co-directorial debut with the Ryan Gosling vehicle "Half Nelson," and whose sophomore effort, "Sugar," opens in Washington on Friday, just can't be pinned down. Their style, which ranges from the spontaneity of documentary to the grit of neorealism to the visual flourishes of the most bravura classical filmmaking, is at once invisible and bold. Their professional process -- they write and direct all their movies as a team -- entails some delegation of duties (Boden handles the editing), but mostly it's a seamless enterprise in which the technical details of getting a movie made just organically sort themselves out.

And don't even get them started on their personal relationship.

"We're partners," says Fleck, as he and Boden settle into a late breakfast during a recent visit to Washington.

"Ummm . . . " Boden interjects.

"We're very close," Fleck says quickly.

"We describe it as close personal . . . "

Fleck interrupts. "We're always skirting," he admits helplessly.

If much of Boden and Fleck's personal and creative life together can't precisely be described in words, it is clearly working for them. Although a lot of the acclaim that "Half Nelson" deserved was appropriated by that year's cuter indie darling, "Little Miss Sunshine," the movie nonetheless announced that Boden and Fleck possessed intelligence, vision and filmmaking chops. The film, in which Gosling played an idealistic, crack-addicted junior high school teacher who befriends a student (played in a stunning nonprofessional turn by Shareeka Epps), was one of the few first-time films that felt genuinely new, featuring un-stock characters in a story that never took expected twists and turns.

"Half Nelson" wound up earning Gosling an Oscar nomination, and it brought Boden and Fleck to Hollywood's attention. And it turns out, executives really do say things like, "We want to be in the Anna and Ryan business."

"Except it's 'We'd love to be in business with you' -- " says Boden.

" -- usually to our agent -- " Fleck says.

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