“Sugar” is a closely observed, heartfelt film about the pursuit of the American Dream, filtered through the lens of baseball. It is not a sports movie, not in the traditional sense, though I think true baseball fans will find it very satisfying. If you know the game, you know that the only place where rookies pitch perfect games in the World Series is in sport movies.
Miguel “Sugar” Santos is a kid from the Dominican Republic with a pretty good fastball and a secret pitch– the knuckle curve. At home in the DR, he’s a big fish in a small pond. He is signed by an American ballclub, and naturally hopes to make it to The Show, make a lot of money, build a new house for his mother, and you know, pitch a perfect game in the World Series or something.
What’s particularly unique about this movie is that it doesn’t sentimentalize Sugar’s hopes and dreams. Yes, his family lives in the poverty of a third world country. But they do okay. Sure, he’d love to improve their circumstances. But nobody’s desperate or dying. And as he rises through the ranks of pro ball, we see others just like him packing it up and going home. And he sees them, too. It’s the way the game works.
“Sugar” captures the odd and alien feel of American culture to an outsider when our ballplayer hero is shipped to a Minor league team in Iowa. He stays with an Earl and Anne Higgins, who are all Iowa. They live in an old farmhouse, surrounded by corn, attend the Presbyterian church, and live and breathe baseball, apple pie and grandchildren. They speak English to Sugar, and when he doesn’t understand, they speak louder.
“Sugar” takes a left turn in the middle, a turn that lets us know it’s more interested in being a movie about the immigrant experience in America than about baseball. Thankfully, it got the baseball right along the way, and is all the better for it.