Sunday, May 17, 2009
I'll admit up front that I don't like sports. But I love a good sports movie. I think it's because sports movies are really chick films for guys. Brian's Song is a tear jerker where the main character dies. In most good sports films we root for the team to win. My favorites are character driven with universal themes like personal redemption ("Hoosiers"), coping with a shattered dream and failure ("Bull Durham"), or coming of age ("Breaking Away"). Sports films can tackle important issues like racism ("Remember the Titans.") They can lift your spirit like "Field of Dreams." I think people love sports films (and perhaps sports) because we are inspired by the triumph of the human spirit.
So I was thrilled to do a Reel Inspiration review of the quality indie sports flick, "Sugar." The film begins with a new twist on an old genre. We are introduced to the world of baseball training camps in the Dominican Republic and Sugar - a minor league hopeful with a killer fast ball. The ball players in the program are drilled in basic, or should I say, baseball English. ("Fly ball!" "I got it!" "Home run!") Back in their home town, these players are treated like local celebrities. The families' hopes and dreams for a better life depend on them being chosen to play in the minor leagues in American.
"Sugar" isn't your typical sports flick. The filmmakers (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who directed the acclaimed "Half Nelson") take time and care to set up their close knit community in the world they are leaving behind. We root for Sugar to get into the minor leagues so he can help his family financially. But once in America, he has problems acclimating because he doesn't speak the language well. Sugar complains to his girlfriend back home that the food is too sweet (because the only menu item he knows how to pronounce is french toast.) He is recruited to a minor league team in Iowa where there is only one other player who can speak his language. Then Sugar's one friend is fired for not performing well after an injury. Actor Algenis Perez plays Sugar as bitter-sweet as he silently expresses his increasing isolation and loneliness. He must examine his dream of being a professional baseball player in America. This is where the film becomes about the immigrant experience and discovering what is important in life. There is no big play off game where we root for the team to win. Just life.
"Sugar" wins it's place with the great sports films that inspire us through the triumph of the human spirit and by giving us a greater understanding of the immigrant experience in America.