Posted by schnolis on April 25th, 2009 filed in Reviews

SUGARMost people don’t realize how difficult it is to reach the top echelon of anything. In partcular, professional sports are full of young athletes talented enough to take a shot at their dream, at being a pro. It’s impossible for everyone to make it, and most fail to make it for very long. Miguel “Sugar” Santos learns this lesson first-hand in this smart, challenging movie “Sugar.”

In the Dominican Republic, Miguel is a top talent. He’s clearly an outstanding ballplayer who’s got the right stuff to take a shot at the big leagues. That opportunity is compounded by a chance to get into the United States, where very few people are as poor as where Miguel got started. He gets a tryout with a farm team of a Major League Baseball club, and does well enough to make the IA team, located in Iowa. He gets on a plane and starts showing off some of his talent and performing quite well. For Sugar, at least, things are going well on the baseball diamond.

Off the field is another matter. Sugar has a hard time communicating with anyone as nobody speaks Spanish and he speaks only a few words of English. His host family is obsessed with the baseball team, and talk to him of little else. The rules and structure of the organization begin wearing him down. The girls he’d like to get to know don’t understand him and he has few bonding opportunities with anyone. Then injury strikes. Sugar goes through a slump after his recovery, and can’t seem to catch up to his pre-injury state. The game is suddenly faster than he can cope with, and he sees his one opportunity slipping away like it has for so many others before him.

So Miguel makes the decision to disappear from the team and head to New York like a Dominican teammate of his had done earlier in the season. Sugar didn’t make it to the big leagues. His ultimate hope for success was still alive, though, if he could find some way to make it in the US. With some luck and some essential aid from newly acquired friends, he manages to stabilize himself in New York.

What I liked: A different kind of baseball movie. Miguel was looking for success and happiness, and realized that a life in baseball wasn’t going to provide that. He left that dream behind and sought out his path another way, the harder way, in New York. I loved the emotional timbre of this film. Sugar’s angst and dissatisfaction over the life of a ballplayer grew over the course of the film, and he ceased loving the one thing that had given him hope. Watching him go through that transformation was painful and powerful. We as viewers never got to forget how hard it is for someone in their late teens to grow up while struggling with the enormous professional challenge of sport.

What I disliked: Some of the decision Miguel made were odd, and not quite fully explained. The language barrier shouldn’t have been as big a source of tension in the locker room environment, for instance, because there were plenty of Spanish speaking players around. .

Rating: 8 of 10

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