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Review: Sugar – “Absorbing and well told”

Sugar is a small independent film directed by Rotimi Rainwater and produced by Elliott Broidy. Rainwater co-wrote the film with Tony Aloupis. The film stars Shenae Grimes-Beech, Marshall Allman, Austin Williams. Will Peltz, Corbin Bleu, Wes Studi, Angus Macfadyen and Nastassja Kinski.

Rainwater’s most recent film was the 2017 documentary, Lost In America. That followed Rainwater, a former homeless youth, as he travelled the country to shine a light on the epidemic of youth homelessness in America. He talked about his experiences growing up here.

The reason I mention that documentary is because Sugar deals with similar issues. We follow a 20-year-old homeless girl, Sugar (Shenae Grimes-Beech) on the streets of Hollywood and Venice beach. The same issues, but the director and co-writer of the film knows what he is talking about. That gives Sugar an immediacy and rawness about it. We know it is a deeply personal film for Rotimi Rainwater. The whole film rings true, which is a refreshing change for this type of film.

Often films dealing with homelessness and life on the street have those moments that pull you out – a character who is wise beyond their years, the earnest social worker trying to help all they can, the lost child with the incredible talent and so on. You know the score, we have seen it many times and even if based on a true story, they can come across as patronising or sickly sweet in the end.

Sugar is different. As the film progresses we slowly discover why she ended up where she is. It takes its time and gives us just enough before moving on. We are putting things together and it doesn’t talk down to us. Always a good thing in a film. I won’t go into details, but the character ended up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from what she went through. Not only that, we follow other characters and discover the numerous reasons why people end up on the street. Having gone through a major emotional upheaval myself a few years ago, I saw how easy these things could happen, and made the characters all the more real.

The cast is predominantly young, focusing on the kids and teenagers who fall through the cracks. On the whole, they do a decent job portraying their characters. There is the occasional misfire in a couple of scenes, but not enough to throw your attention. Shenae Grimes-Beech in the main role of Sugar does great things. We feel her pain, yet she guards it well, not letting anyone in. Always good to see how well someone acts when they are not talking all the time.

Wes Studi (Heat, The Last of the Mohicans), is wonderful as Bishop, the counsellor who helps bring Sugar back to herself. I’ve always enjoyed Studi’s work and he has an inner calmness that he brings to every role.

The story itself is absorbing and well told. The direction and cinematography are pretty good but could have been a little better in places. There were a few moments when it went for the close up when I felt it would have been better to pull away from the characters to show their isolation. I enjoyed how they built the characters and portrayed their various situations. It could have all been a little tighter and the soundtrack was a bit intrusive in places. I am still not sure whether the ending worked or not.

However, on the whole it was a good film that dealt with some important issues.

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