“Searching for Sugar Man” (2012)
by A.J. Hakari
Welcome to the first installment of His & Hers Reviews! In this series, my friend/fellow critic Marcey Papandrea and I will team up to deliver mini-critiques of completely random movies on one another’s sites. We may agree, and we may not, but what we can guarantee is a one-two punch of discussion and analysis. And now, to kick things off, our inaugural title…
Searching for Sugar Man is the “Behind the Music” story most people would probably rather hear. Most musicians who don’t consistently work and keep themselves in the public eye usually sink fast into obscurity, ending up either as “Family Guy” references or something tragically worse. But Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary about the mystique of a near-unknown ’70s singer named Rodriguez, gives hope to those who’ve wished that their favorite one-hit wonders didn’t all meet highball-addled fates.
The film gives us the basics behind Rodriguez’ brief career (a couple albums, low sales, dropped off the map), but the real meat comes when focus shifts to the hunt for what happened to him. Though I won’t spoil what happens, I will say that Rodriguez redefines the term “cult hit,” generating a following and representing a cultural revolution, both to which he was completely oblivious. I’ve heard some criticize Searching for Sugar Man for needlessly deifying one guy whose music (which, by the way, is *that* damn good) people barely heard of, but I think the love is displayed and justified quite well. Not all feel-good movies are soulless and manipulative, and the affectionately-crafted Searching for Sugar Man is a prime example.
Searching for Sugar Man is an extraordinary and emotional ride, one I had no idea I would be in for, and I am so thankful I took it. It isn’t too often where I am moved to tears by a documentary, and this one certainly did the trick. This story is an incredible one, so many ups and downs and an intriguing mystery mixed in there. The film recently took home the Oscar for Best Documentary, and in my opinion, it is deserving of all of its accolades. Stories like this don’t come along very often, and with the passion and great talent of director Malik Bendjelloul, this film succeeds on every level.
The story here is about a musician from the early ’70s simply known as Rodriguez. He was hailed as the next Bob Dylan, and despite his albums getting great reviews, no one really bought them. However, bootleg copies made their way to South Africa, and he became the voice of the voiceless there. Rodriguez disappeared, and rumors of what happened to him circulated, and his fans in South Africa vowed to find out the truth about him and what happened.
This is such an engaging film; I was wrapped up in the Rodriguez mystery right away. I knew nothing about him, and listening to his music through the film helped me form a real connection like I am sure the people of South Africa did. Hearing the stories about the enigma of Rodriguez is really something special, and the third act is an amazing ride that filled me with immense joy. This really is an incredible film; I listen to the soundtrack every day, and Rodriguez, with his music, has helped me emotionally. GO SEE THIS FILM!