Searching for Sugar Man
Directed by: Malik Bendjelloul Documentary Running Time: 1 hr 26 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 10, 2012
PLOT: A documentary about the mystery of Detroit songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who wrote two albums in the early 70s and then was rumored to have killed himself.
WHO'S IT FOR? You don't have to know anything about the musical artist Rodriguez before seeing this documentary. But you will definitely be a fan of him after you leave.
Twenty minutes into Searching for Sugar Man, I thought I was watching a ruse. It had to be. How could I have never heard of this musician, if his two albums were reportedly so great? (And this is when the film had only shown me a couple songs). With comparisons to Bob Dylan being thrown around, I figured this "Rodriguez" guy was just a parody of Dylan, much like Ricky Fataar parodied George Harrison with actual dark skin in The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. I admit it: this movie could've been a Rutles-like send-off on American folk singers, with actually comedy or not, and I wouldn't have been surprised.
Soon into the documentary, we learn that, in all senses of the cliché, Rodriguez is the real deal. And by means true to the best of documentary stories, this man's saga is indeed stranger than fiction.
To discuss the events of Searching for Sugar Man is to ruin the movie's exciting sense of discovery, of which can happen with this film. Not only does the film stand as a very convincing recommendation to listen to Rodriguez's music, it also gives viewers (especially Americans) a wild story about another country's political attitudes being influenced by the power of song (with Rodriguez's influence I will happily keep secret).
Searching for Sugar Man takes viewers through a remarkable course of events that has its dead-ends and ups and downs, all of which first-time director Bendjelloul is able to compact into a riveting narrative. His re-tracking of this story (which features more than Rodriguez, let's just say that) answers as many questions as possible, but can't be faulted for the types of questions no one is able to answer (such as, "How have we never heard of this guy?!"
Bendjelloul only fails his film by taking on the position of composing the score. Any other music would of course be a joke compared to the beautiful (and beautifully used) music of Rodriguez, but Bendjelloul's synthesizer noodling is embarrassing in comparison. The opening credits, for example, are goofed up by cheap sounding strings that sound like demos more than final cut material. In other moments, the score is unnecessary to scenes that do not an aural assistance with tone - the words spoken by these incredulous people about Rodriguez's dramatic story can stand by themselves.
A surprising tale about an underrated musician, Searching for Sugar Man is a wonderful celebration of talent.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10