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Searching for Sugar Man: movie review

'Sugar,' the story of the search for a musician whose career is resurrected, is a real-life fairy tale with a happy ending.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / July 27, 2012

Singer-songwriter Rodriguez comes back into the spotlight in the documentary 'Searching for Sugar Man.'

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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The elusive American singer-songwriter named Rodriguez, the subject of Malik Bendjelloul's Sundance favored documentary "Searching for Sugar Man," recorded two cultishly acclaimed albums in the early 1970s that went nowhere, whereupon he left the music scene.

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Unbeknown to him, his recordings found their way to South Africa, where his lilting, frequently banned anthems about social and political injustice found an appreciative audience of mostly young, white anti-apartheid activists. Because Rodriguez, who was bigger than Elvis there, was such a nowhere man, most assumed he was dead. (Sadly, he received no income from his South African stardom.) It's a scenario that could only have arisen in the pre-Internet era.

In fact, Rodriguez had been living in the same rundown Detroit neighborhood where he started out – his Mexican father had come to Detroit to work in the auto industry – and made his living in construction while raising three daughters. He even once ran for mayor of Detroit.

"Searching for Sugar Man" is about how Bendjelloul and a number of devoted fans reclaimed Rodriguez, at age 70 and serenely humble, and resurrected his career – which, partly as a result of this film, is once again in full swing, with a national tour this summer and a newly remastered CD from Sony's Legacy label of songs recorded more than 40 years ago. Better late than never. This is a real-life fairy tale with a remarkably happy ending. Grade: B+ (Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some drug references.)

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