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By 2008, more than 25 percent of major league baseball players were born in Latin America. At 19, Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a serious kid from the Dominican Republic, signs with Kansas City. He flies to Phoenix for tryouts and is sent to the Class A team "The Swing" in the fictional town of Bridgetown, Iowa, where he lives with a farm family. Thus begins his odyssey: leaving his mom and girlfriend; living in an alien culture; learning English; overcoming jitters; working hard; achieving early success; navigating friendships, occasional racism, and a woman's mixed signals; dealing with an injury; trying performance-enhancing drugs; and, searching for his place in the world. Will he make it to the Majors; will he play in New York? Written by
Baseball movies are often deemed cliché in today's world of cinema. You have a team or a player the film focuses around, they're usually underdogs or feel good stories, they have an improbable season and the end result is usually a championship for the team, or a life altering moment for a player. The movie, Sugar goes completely against this modern day norm.
As a baseball movie, Sugar won't stand-alone. What does set it aside is the cultural quantum leap the main character endures. The films main character, Miguel Santos, whose nickname is the movies namesake, is the hero of his small, Dominican Republican village, as a pitcher with lively arm, an ideal build, and terrific upside. He receives mounting pressure from his family and the community to become the next Dominican baseball star, and eventually gets his shot. It's a reminder for every Sammy Sosa and Pedro Martinez who makes it from the Dominican Republic; hundreds of others burn out and are never heard from again.
It's the off the diamond aspects of the opportunity he gets that makes the movie an interesting character piece. Short, and seemingly innocuous scenes help build the movie, and show the struggle that Santos endures in his assimilation to Americanized life, which ultimately correlates to his performance on the field. As mentioned, as a baseball movie it goes away from the norm, Hollywood cookie cutter of a sports movie, but as an allegory of the struggle that millions of Latino baseball players go through, it couldn't be more spot on.
For a person with virtually zero prior acting experience, Algenis Perez Soto gives a noble performance as the films protagonist. He's never really asked to go outside his main personality, which is stoic and monotonous, but he has a few moments where he breaks off, and his ability to act at emotional pinnacles are shown. Surely this won't be the end of his acting career, as he virtually won the acting lottery by randomly being selected for a lead in a semi-major motion picture. Most of the actors don't have enough of a part in the movie to shine, as no other character was given enough screen time to even be considered a strong supporting actor.
The writing and story is thorough in its sports detail, which a baseballs junkie would enjoy, but the average moviegoer might not understand. The subplots in the movie like the love story and the conflicts surrounding the supporting characters lack substance. Those subplots, along with the characters involved in it seem to just disappear abruptly. The story is somewhat episodic, divided into a few large parts, with none of those parts supporting characters carrying on through the movie. As a whole, the movie takes on a slow pace, and sometimes struggles to keep the interest of the viewer.
If you plan on seeing Sugar, don't go in expecting a team to pull in a superstar to save the day in the last second, or for the main character to pitch a World Series no-hitter, or you'll be disappointed. Mainly, don't go into the movie expecting a baseball movie, or you won't be satisfied. In the end, the movie lacks a punch that would make it stand out, but gets my praise for tackling a plot that usually will end with a cold dose of reality.
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