Prayer Focus
Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Movie Review

Sugar

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief drug use.

Spencer Schumacher
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Add to your list?
View your list
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Genre:
Sports, Drama
Length:
1 hr. 54 min.
Year of Release:
2009
USA Release:
January 21, 2008 (Sundance Film Festival)
April 3, 2009 (limited)
DVD: September 1, 2009
Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films Copyright, HBO Films
Relevant Issues
Copyright, HBO Films

anger in the Bible

humility

Fear, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

depression

Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

hope

Pornography interest

How can I tell if I’m getting addicted to pornography or sex? Answer

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

Featuring: Algenis Perez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Ann Whitney, Ellary Porterfield, Jaime Tirelli, Jose Rijo, Michael Gaston, more »
Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Producer: Journeyman Pictures, Hunting Lane Films, Gowanus Projections, HBO Films, more »
Distributor: HBO Films

What boy (and perhaps many girls) doesn’t grow up tying the leather strings of his baseball glove, striking a pose on an imaginary pitcher’s mound, winding up and hurling a baseball as fast as it can be thrown to strike out a friend or neighbor? However, in their mind, the batter is not a neighborhood kid, the batter going down swinging is Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter or Manny Ramirez. This universal dream is the dream of Miguel “Sugar” Santos as told in the movie “Sugar.”

“Sugar” tells the story of 19 year-old Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a pitcher from the Dominican Republic who has his dreams of pitching for a US baseball team realized when he is recruited to pitch for a minor league Kansas City team. The film follows him through the highs and lows of the season and his struggles both on and off the pitching mound. Not only do we watch his struggles as a player, questioning his own abilities, but we also watch him struggle to adapt to life in a new country and all the pitfalls that a new environment and culture bring with it.

From “Bull Durham” to “The Natural,” there have been many films that have attempted to show the day to day life of a major league baseball player, all to varying degrees of success. “Sugar” does a wonderful job at displaying what it must be like for someone to go through the struggles as a player for a major league baseball franchise.

A highlight of the film is when “Sugar” ends up on a farm team in Iowa and is put up in the home of a family willing to let ballplayers stay in their house. The family is quite cordial and make “Sugar” feel welcome. Though it is never explicitly stated, it is apparent through the few ‘house rules’ (i.e., “no drinking” or “bringing women into the house”) that this family practices a clean, wholesome lifestyle. It’s when their grand-daughter invites “Sugar” to a home-based Bible study that we realize that this family is Christian. The family is never depicted as being overtly preachy or condemning, they offer him more advice about the accuracy of his curveball than they do in getting him to go to church or read the Bible. The depiction is honest, and it is clear there is a mutual admiration between “Sugar” and this family, and this family truly cares about him.

Objectionable material

Though the movie is written and directed by the same team (Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden) that produced “Half-Nelson,” the film is almost a 180-degree turn from that film, as far the nature of the story. Let me state that I was among the minority (as far as Christian audiences) that found Dan (Ryan Gosling) Dunne’s story of a teacher struggling with drugs and dependency very engaging. ‘Half-Nelson,’ though very realistic in its portrayal of drug dependency, contained some very uncomfortable content and subject matter, which I would submit was the whole point of that film. However, if you were put off by his struggles in ‘Half-Nelson’ let it not be a reason to avoid this film. The struggles that “Sugar” contends with are far less challenging, and the whole nature of the film is more uplifting.

There is not a lot of objectionable material in the version of the film that I saw when it was released theatrically in June with a “PG-13” rating. It is listed on various Web sites as having both an “R” version and “PG-13” version, however the version available for sale is rated “PG-13,” and, based on the content, that rating is pretty accurate.

The material that audiences will find most objectionable is the profanity. Most of the film is subtitled, so audience members get to read the words they may not understand in Spanish, and a handful of them are expletives. There are a couple utterances of the ‘F’ word and a handful of other profane words. Most of the references to God are done respectfully, such as the Catholic tradition of many ball players to cross their chests and motion to the heavens. As mentioned earlier, there is a depiction of a Christian family that most Christian audiences will find endearing, if not totally refreshing.

Part of the culture that “Sugar” is exposed to as a “stranger in a strange land” is the prevalent attitude in this country towards sex. One of these ‘cultural awakenings’ occurs when he is in a motel room with his teammates, and they are watching a ‘porno’ on the TV. Though nothing is shown, the audience does hear the moans emanating from the picture tube. There is a brief scene of a couple, fully clothed, making out. There is also a scene (typical of most movies dealing with athletes) where we see the team showering, and, in the background, we briefly see a man’s rear end. The only violence in the movie occurs during a minor skirmish between players on the baseball field.

Ryan Gosling earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of teacher Dan Dunne in “Half-Nelson.” It would be surprising (and a bit upsetting) if first time actor Algenis Perez Soto were not likewise nominated for his multifaceted and realistic portrayal of pitcher Miguel “Sugar” Santos. In his role, Soto paints a very broad and charismatic character that is hard not to cheer for.

“Sugar” provides a rare glimpse into the lives of ball players in a profession that many dream about but few actually experience. One does not need to be a huge baseball fan to empathize with Sugar’s story, however those that are will not only find themselves enjoying a great film, but come out with more of an appreciation for this American tradition.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—It’s always good to see a film that doesn’t feel it has to overtly preach any sort of message, but rather just allow the viewer to join the characters in their journey. In the film “Sugar,” Miguel “Sugar” Santos is a young pitcher who gets recruited from his hometown in San Pablo Dominican Republic to play in the U.S. minor-leagues where he at lands an opportunity to see his passion for baseball come alive.

But before we join him on his journey as a rookie, we get to spend time with his family and friends to get to know the world he lives in. Through brief montages, we see his everyday living as he hangs out with friends, drinks, and has a good time. Making his living as a baseball player and a carpenter he supports his mother, brother, and sister whom they all admire and respect. The small community he travels back home from baseball to all know that it’s only a matter of time before young Sugar will make it “out of here” and into the States. He has close relationships with his mother and seems to be somewhat of a father figure to his younger teenage sister.

As a foreign baseball player the league finds a place for him to stay—an elderly couple who happen to be Christian. And decent Christians, at that, in which we get a surface exposure to Christianity and it’s culture. Mainly through the couple’s young grand-daughter, Anne, who invites him to a “meeting” where a bunch of young kids meet in a basement filled with foosball and board games. The filmmakers were generally able to capture an authentic feel of the culture, but might have missed in the dialog.

(It’s important to note that the Christians' characters in this film were portrayed as genuinely loving people who weren’t “preaching the gospel” down Sugar’s throat, but rather demonstrating care, out of selfless love. Which is RARE these days in film.)

We also join Sugar in discovering America. Where there’s a plethora of ways to meet woman, and where there’s easy access to pornography as he discovers at the first hotel he stays in. And unfortunately, watching porn was only reduced to not necessarily morally wrong, but ethically inappropriate for them to watch it when the league was paying for it.

Over time, we see Sugar gradually begin to believe that he might not be as good as he thought he hoped he’d be. After a few games Sugar becomes weary to which the coach relieves him the middle of a game. It happens more than once until Sugar breaks down in anger and lets his emotions get the best of him.

I felt myself extremely connecting at his gradual failures and his reaction to them. Although I don’t play baseball, I’ve definitely experienced times when I saw myself slowly “losing my touch” at certain things, to the point where my thoughts of quitting turn into action in which I then run and hide from my failures instead of facing them. And that’s exactly where Sugar heads.

Which is why I think this story connects with humans when we all are, hopefully, in the midst of fulfilling our dreams. Every so often we think we’ve arrived at the place where we’ve finally “got there” only to realize that you weren’t prepared to find out that I may have made a mistake. Did my heart deceive me?

But thankfully Sugar doesn’t end there. As cliché as it may sound to hear that “everything happens for a reason,” often there’s something maybe better for us in the future. And it’s good to know Miguel “Sugar” Santos may not know where he’s heading, but knows where he wants to end up.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Sal, age 27 (USA)