"Sugar", the PBS indie film that aired this past March sees the collaboration between director/producer Rose Troche and composer Barb Morrison. After tackling projects such as Concussion, The Safety of Objects, and Sidewalk Traffic, Morrison takes her style and approach to the dramatic story of Sugar, an ex-con, who is released from prison and attempts to find a stable place to live, all the while attempting to connect to her young estranged daughter, and avoid the temptation to blend back into her old criminal ways. If you know Barb Morrison, you’ll know what to expect. There’s nothing overly flashy in the approach, and that’s a good thing.
Morrison’s talents in building suspense and accompanying the story of Sugar are put on display here as she weaves a great undercurrent of tension while emphasizing the emotions of the story in the all the right ways. The music, a blend of Hip-Hop and cinematic ambience, is not overly thematic or egotistical by any means. It opens by establishing the characters and giving us a glimpse that these are real people with troubles and heartache. The film’s tracks are not long by any means, yet you get the feeling the score has no problem working its magic. It’s a unique dynamic because each track almost feels like we’re being led up a spiral staircase working our way to the climax. But also, each track feels like it’s own journey as well. So we kind of get this interesting stepladder progression in intensity until we work our way to the conclusion of Sugar’s story. In all of this, the dark and moody soundscape of beats and ethereal melodies never begs for attention. You may not notice the score as you are becoming engulfed in the world of Sugar, and this is precisely what Barb Morrison wants to happen.
The music takes the viewer on an emotional journey without them ever realizing it. It’s a score that contributes to the story instead of attempting to elevate itself above it. Sure, the film is a work of fiction, but it so perfectly engages and entertains while shining a light on the human spirit that shines through in times of greatest trouble. All in all, a great film and terrific effort from Morrison, who adds her signature sound to give some surreal moments to a very moving story.