Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have transformed some of the most clichéd genres with smarts, non-screechy politics, superb acting, and visual beauty. Half Nelsontheir 2006 feature debut about a white middle-class basehead who teaches poor African-American kidsis free of Dangerous Mindslike hooey. Sugar tackles even hoarier terrain: the sports movie and the immigrant story. While certainly diamond-specific, Sugar is less about Americas pastime than the fallacies of the American dream. Miguel Sugar Santos (the remarkable nonprofessional actor Algenis Perez Soto), a 19-year-old star pitcher in the Dominican Republic, impresses a gringo talent scout with his curveball and is invited to spring training in Phoenix, quickly advancing to a single-A team in Iowa. In the States, Sugar grows increasingly isolated by language and Corn Belt custom. Fleck and Boden capture certain believable heartland specifics: a racist scuffle in a club, misunderstood signals from a church-group-leading teenager, and a fluid, back-of-the-head long take as Sugar ambles through several different neon-nightmare video arcades. Its no spoiler to say that Sugar doesnt lead his team to victory. In their subversion of inspirational genres, Boden and Fleck dont want us to be any less moved by the struggles of their protagonists. They simply insist that tidy redemptions have no place in a complicated world.
Starts: April 10. Daily, 2009