With just two movies under their belt, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck—a wife-and-husband filmmaking team—have eased into a distinct style of storytelling; they're all about upending Hollywood genres by infusing their work with narrative twists that challenge your expectations and offer you a glimpse into worlds you've never been in.
In the phenomenal Half Nelson, Ryan Gosling is the heroic teacher who changes the life of one of his black female students. Sounds like your typical urban inspirational teacher movie, right? Well, the thing is, Gosling's charismatic educator may light up classrooms by day, but he's a crack addict by night. A crack addict! When the female student in question finds him passed out on a bathroom floor at school, their complex journey begins.
Boden and Fleck's sophomore effort, Sugar—which was recently released on DVD and which I just saw—is about a talented baseball player from the Dominican Republic who gets recruited and comes to America to pursue his Yankee Stadium dreams. Sounds like your typical rousing inspirational sports movie, right? Well, I won't reveal the third act twist, but just know that, if it's The Natural you want, The Natural is not what you're going to get.
Sugar, shot and directed with a loving eye for unique and carefully observed details, is one of the most fascinating and original perspectives on the immigrant experience that I've ever seen. It reminds me a bit of Maria Full of Grace, which is another powerful reminder that lots of people end up in the United States and building their lives here in ways that you don't typically imagine.