"Good Rewards Come to Those Who Wait"
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is a captivating documentary about the search for a folk/rock singer and composer from Detroit who became popular and remained popular in Australia and South Africa 10 years after he had to quit the music business. It follows the mysterious, at times sad, but ultimately uplifting story of Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter held in high artistic esteem, who disappeared from the public eye after two huge commercial failures.
Several people recall how Rodriguez recorded two albums in 1970 and 1971 that failed miserably in the United States. Ten years later in South Africa, a bootleg copy of the first album, COLD PLAY, made the rounds. The album’s gritty, poetic lyrics about urban life, including several protest songs, inspired many young white South Africans, including budding musicians, to protest apartheid. At the same time, rumors persisted that the reason Rodriguez no longer was recording albums was because he killed himself on stage out of despair.
A couple South African fans in the late 1990s decided to investigate Rodriguez and find out more about him. They followed clues from his lyrics and the money trail of who gets Rodriguez’s royalties. What follows next is truly an amazing story.
The filmmakers of SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN do a masterful job of holding viewers in suspense as viewers wonder whether Rodriguez is actually dead or alive. They dole out the information in perfect pace with the way that the two fans in South Africa of Rodriguez learn the answers. Most of the movie is filled with a sad sense of wonder and beauty as it reveals what happened to Rodriguez.
[SPOILER ALERT] Eventually, viewers learn that Rodriguez is still alive. The two fans finally find the man, after one of his three adult daughters surprisingly discovers the South African website devoted to her father and his music. The ending shows Rodriguez and his family traveling to South Africa in 1998 to perform, with great acclaim from his many fans. It’s extremely touching as this relatively humble and unassuming man enjoyably basks in their acclaim.
The movie reveals that, all this time, Rodriguez spent his life raising his daughters while working the hardest of manual labor and construction jobs. More than anything, it shows a man who tried to commit beauty to records, and provides a strong sense of uplift as he finally gets his shot at success again. The effect provides a feeling of hope and resilience, that good work will eventually be noticed. When Rodriguez finally starts getting his long-lost, long-overdue acclaim, the movie takes on a sweeping and powerful upbeat tone by showing that – sometimes – dreams, patience, and good work eventually will be noticed and rewarded. The effect gives the movie’s ending a feeling of hope and resilience.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN contains brief foul language, including one “f” word. There’s also a repeated reference to a lyric about marijuana, and one about fornication, in a song called “Sugar Man.” The South African government once banned “Sugar Man” because of these two references. The movie also briefly mentions that Rodriguez once ran for Detroit Mayor on a socialist ticket. Consequently, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.
(B, Ro, So, LL, V, S, A, DD, M) Light moral worldview extolling taking care of one’s family and the joys of seeing talent finally rewarded, with some Romantic idealization of the “great” artist who’s misunderstood in his own time and some oblique references to the left-leaning politics of the protagonist, a rather obscure singer/composer who ran for mayor of Detroit on a socialist reform ticket of some kind (the movie doesn’t in depth the political ideology of the protagonist or his lyrics [though, if you look him up, one song is called “The Establishment Blues” and another is titled “Inner City Blues”], only to say that his protest songs inspired the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, especially among young white people interested in music; seven obscenities (including one “f” word), three GDs, and one “Good Lord!”; references to false rumors about man’s gruesome alleged suicide, one rumor of which was he set himself on fire on stage and another is he shot himself in the mouth onstage, and some newsreel depictions of civil unrest during apartheid and during anti-apartheid protests in South Africa; no sex scenes but prominently heard lyric makes light of promiscuity, as singer asks, “I wonder how many times you’ve had sex? And, if you know who’ll be next?”; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking, one lyric mentions marijuana as “Mary Jane,” and a couple lyrics sometimes lightly describe the lifestyle of drug dealing and drug addiction in haunting fashion; and, rumors and gossip about strange career of singer composer, man eschews living an extravagant lifestyle and it is said he gives a lot of his money now to family and friends and still works menial jobs in between folk/rock concerts he occasionally gives, plus one strange, cryptic lyric says, “The Pope said it was none of His GD business” in response to a question from God.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is a captivating documentary about the search for a mysterious folk/rock singer and composer from Detroit. It follows the sometimes sad but ultimately uplifting story of Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter held in high artistic esteem by some. Rodriguez disappeared from the public eye in the early 1970s after two huge commercial flops. Ten years later, his first album becomes immensely popular among young people in Australia and South Africa. In South Africa, several of his protest songs inspire the anti-apartheid movement. In the late 1990s, two fans search out the truth about this mystery man. They discover that, despite rumors to the contrary, Rodriguez is still very much alive, working manual jobs.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN does a masterful job of holding viewers in suspense as it explores whether Rodriguez is dead or alive. As he finally gets another shot at success, it provides a feeling of hope and resilience: That good work and patience eventually will be noticed and rewarded. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN warrants extreme caution. That’s mostly due to brief foul language and a couple lyrics lightly referring to marijuana and fornication.