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Each of us have troubling things in our past and present but for some, it is better to run away. Even if it means being on the streets than face those troubles head on.
Review (with Spoilers)
After seeing Gimme Shelter with Vanessa Hudgens, I was quite surprised to see fellow Wild Cat Corbin Bleu had also filmed a movie in which he played someone with a history of being homeless/ mental illness. And while I learned he didn’t have a prominent role in Sugar as I would hope, I did find myself quite entertained. How and why? Well, that is below.
Characters & Story
We begin by being introduced to this young lady named Sugar (Shenae Grimes) who has been living on the streets of Venice, Los Angeles, CA for around 2+ years. Like most of the characters in the movie, she isn’t fond of talking about her life before she lived on the streets, and seems to find that anything associated with her past to be a big enough trigger that it makes her either unable to function, or makes her feel the need to run away from whatever location which initiated the trigger. Luckily for her, though, she has quite a community to take her mind off the past and even the struggles of the present. Be it her boyfriend Marshall (Marshall Allman); this kid named Ronnie (Austin Williams), who is like a surrogate little brother to her; as well as this former homeless man, and now youth shelter counselor, Bishop (Wes Studi). All of these characters, and many more, try to help Sugar be in a good mental place, or at the very least make surviving a little less of a challenge.
Naturally, though, with a cast featuring those with PTSD, those who escaped abusive situations, possible drug addicts, and even those with possible mental illnesses, it isn’t just a bunch of kids living freely on the streets. There is an attempt at giving homeless youths a face and background. Trying to have the watcher remember that these are people who may have dreams and aspirations, but just don’t have the financial support they need to really pursue them. Making for an overall interesting story based off the director’s own experience with homelessness.
Perhaps the grandest praise I can give to a film is wishing it was a series. A few years back MTV tried to adapt the UK hit show Skins, and for the most part failed. To me, with some adjustments, I think this movie could have done much better under the Skins banner. For while no one seems to be going to school, everyone pretty much is on the brink of adulthood and just imagining the episodes which could feature Sugar’s past with her family; Marshall’s as a young Mormon; Ronnie’s in a foster home; Sketch’s (Corbin Bleu) wherever he may have been; and then of course Bishop’s past and etc., I think the story crafted could have really had the essence of Skins, used their focus on one character per episode format, and possibly flourished.
And I mostly say this because quite honestly I feel like the characters were well done. They all had some sort of flaw, but with their creation of a community, of which some members get along better than others, you can see potential for a pilot. Though I must admit, amongst them I don’t really think there is any true standout, even though Grimes’ character is the lead for the movie.
One of the major obstacles I faced watching this film was my preconceived notions. From wonder how do most of the homeless kids look clean; Why do their clothes look fresh; How does Sugar own a functioning iPod, much less where does she charge it; How did Sketch find his living arrangements, and who lets him stay there? These questions made me skeptical and my own ignorance made me forget that just because someone is homeless, it doesn’t mean they aren’t resourceful, much less came from an impoverished environment.
However, perhaps the other major problem with the film is that there is a lack of diverse speaking roles. In total, including Bishop, I believe only three to four people of color were given speaking roles, and I found that so strange. Plus, considering how many people who are trans or homosexual are homeless, and likely would be in the area Sugar is in, I found it weird they weren’t included. But perhaps the biggest issue was with no character wanting to dive into their past too much, all we get presented is their present which has them skateboarding all day, never really being harassed, and pretty much presenting a life in which it seems the only issue any of the kids may have is finding food. Of which they can steal or get from a shelter. Thus making what is probably a difficult experience seem to not have the weight it should.
Overall: TV Viewing
With it being a little difficult to connect with the characters and story, for varied reasons, I feel the TV Viewing label is appropriate. For while it is definitely interesting, and the director’s background lends the story authenticity, I must admit that my own preconceived notions sort of made the plot seem dull. There isn’t much in the way of struggle shown, outside of being homeless; and despite all the bad things Sugar talks about happening, we are never invited to see the dark side of things. Yes, it is hinted at, but never exposed. Thus making Sugar a film which has potential, but with the assumption that the director didn’t want to exploit the stories of those he knew, but more so wanted to show a sort of “our lives aren’t exactly what you think they are,” he created a production which maybe authentic to his life and experiences, but overall doesn’t have the weight of the situation that is implied or warranted.