As both a sports movie and an immigration movie, Sugar might all too easily have indulged–or reproached–the expected pieties of the American dream. But writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) prefer a mode of relaxed understatement. Their tale, of one sweetly soulful teenager who pitches his way from a Dominican baseball academy into the U.S. minor leagues, wears its copious research lightly; it feels, albeit sometimes ruefully, alive. Barriers of culture and language prompt a canny economy of expression, and the movie’s rhythmic lilt evokes that of the great American pastime itself. In that regard it may not suit every taste, but the baseball-faithful–and their patient accommodators–will feel well respected. In the title role, and his stirring debut, Algenis Pérez Soto seems perfectly cast. The Natural, he isn’t (hell, he’s not even The Naturalized), and that’s why it works.

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