Monday, May 4, 2009

Keep Your Social Issues in Documentary Form

There is a moment in the new film "Sugar" when two baseball players are talking on the team bus. One is from the Dominican Republic and has never graduated high school, the other just finished Stanford. Both are black. They trade notes on favorite ball players, laugh at each other's cultural differences, and then the American player asks "Hey man, have you heard TV on the Radio?" This is then followed by a rousing montage of baseball moments set to the TVOTR tune "Blues from Down Here".

Wow! An Ivy-League educated, Black baseball player who listens to TV on the Radio and is getting "hip" with his DR bro-han. High five everbody!!!! Now let's go watch "The Wire". Awesome. Everything around me is more colorful and less burdened by social inequality. I haven't felt this good about myself since Natalie Portman showed me how to change my life:

Directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden really let me down with this one. I was a pretty big fan of their last film, Half Nelson, but this time they skirted the deep character study in favor of liberal pandering under the guise of a sports film. The standford-grad player is the perfect example of someone who may represent 2% of pro players, but had a solid supportive role in the film because he is easy to relate to for the target audience of liberal/progressive, multi-culti hipsters. I mean hey, they got my ass in a seat.

Too bad, because "Sugar" started out pretty interesting. We saw the day-to-day operations of a US baseball franchise camp in the DR and how the players dealt with the dangling promise of playing for a pro team while still living a world away from it. But by the end of the film, the protagonist, Sugar, has gone through such a cliched set of "immigrant" experiences that I could just feel Fleck and Boden trying to squeeze every last issue they could into this guy's story while affirming the core values of their audience. They should watch some more John Sayles movies to really get how to combine narrative with social issues, or just move to documentaries.

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