Reel Affirmations 2004
Review by Randy Shulman
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/16/2004, 11:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
ACCORDING TO THE Internet Movie Database, John Palmer directed only one film before 2004’s Sugar — 1974’s Me. The question you have to ask is: where has he been for 30 years?
Sugar is a fairly potent piece of work — despite the typical ups and downs associated with a low-budget filmmaking. Based on the “J.D.” series of short stories by Bruce La Bruce, Sugar is the gangly, loose-limbed story of an 18-year-old suburban youth named Cliff (the promising Andre Noble, who died last summer during a hiking trip) who becomes enamored with an inner-city hustler named Butch (Roswell teen dream Brendan Fehr, who, here, is both remarkable and remarkably brave).
The movie has moments of extreme sordidness (Butch pleasures a grossly overweight invalid woman, and virtually no detail is spared), and tempers its eroticism with a few harrowing, brutal sequences of carnal discomfort. It is, to be sure, one of the only movies in which you will ever see two young men masturbate together at a breakfast table, while enjoying their Corn Flakes. The movie is steeped in odd little curiosities, not the least of which being Cliff’s enlightened eight year old sister, who is all-too-happy to supply a joint to anyone who asks.
Sugar evokes the gritty, bracing verite of Larry Clark’s Kids and Hector Babenco’s gripping 1981 masterwork, Pixote, but it lacks the narrative momentum to carry itself through to a satisfying conclusion. The movie’s final half-hour feels forced and obvious.
There probably isn’t a gay man alive who in his younger days wasn’t drawn to a liaison with dangerous underpinnings. In youth, we can’t see past the sugar coating of our own devising — all we can see is the excitement, the possibility of what’s out there. With age, comes the reality — the horror, the degradation, the brutality. Sugar captures both, magnificently.