Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's Sugar, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed Half Nelson, has finally been picked up for distribution. Variety's Mike Jones reports the film has been acquired for theatrical distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, which seems like a good fit for the film. HBO Films, which financed the film, retains television rights.
Sugar, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, felt at the time like a tough sell after Half Nelson; it still does. The film, which is subtitled, tells the tale of a young baseball star from the Dominican Republic who crashes after getting moved up to the big leagues. It's really very much a coming-of-age kind of tale about this young boy who grew up poor but talented, always believing baseball to be his one ticket out.
At the baseball training school, he was the big fish in a little pond; once he's in the real world of minor and then major league baseball, he starts to realize that, not only are there many other players as talented as he is (or more), but that he's put all his eggs into one basket. He begins to see how limited his knowledge is, both academically and of the world in general. When he realizes that if he doesn't make it in baseball, he has little to fall back on, he spirals downward -- though not in the way you might expect.
I really enjoyed the film; as with Half Nelson, it's shot beautifully and with a confidence many more experienced filmmakers wish they had. Boden and Fleck are definitely a pair to watch; they make films with artistry and intelligence. I still think, though, that Sugar is going to be a tough box office sell.
It's not quite sporty enough for sports fans to get behind it, and it's just odd enough that many mainstream moviegoers will probably balk, especially with the third act, which seemed to come out of nowhere even to many of the film journalists I saw it with at Sundance. Which, I suspect, is probably why it's taken awhile for the film to get distribution -- no one was quite sure how to sell it. Hopefully, SPC has figured out a marketing path that will catch the eye of moviegoers, as this is really an excellent sophomore effort for Boden and Fleck.