Searching for Sugar Man

 
(i)

 

Intriguing docu about missing musician; some language, pot.
Academy Award
  • Review Date: February 3, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 86 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Never give up might be the most important message here, even if it takes years to achieve something. Rodriguez, the musician at the center of this doc, finally finds success, decades after releasing the album that was supposed to make him famous. It did, kind of, but in a most unlikely way, finally finding its audience on the far side of the world. While the artist toiled away taking menial jobs, he was completely unaware that he had become a household name in South Africa.

Positive role models

Rodriguez is a character study in humility. Having accepted that his musical career would never take off, he quietly raised a family, taking odd jobs and menial labor to get by. Years later, when he finally finds fame in far off South Africa, he refuses to take the trappings of success for granted, and when his tour is complete, he happily returns to his quiet life in the U.S. He's happy with success, but he doesn't let it get to his head.

Violence

Old news footage of demonstrations in which people clash with the police. Cops push, beat, and even shoot protestors. Some shots of dead bodies. A few people in interviews describe stories of a musician killing himself onstage in quite graphic detail.

Sex
Not applicable
Language

Occasional swearing and name-calling, including "faggot" and "hooker" in lyrics, plus "s--t," "ass," and "f--k" in conversation.

Consumerism

The film includes numerous snippets of Rodriguez's album Cold Fact, and the entire focus is on the life and career of this 1970s artist who disappeared before his work could catch on.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some general references to drugs, mainly pot use.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Searching for Sugar Man is an acclaimed documentary with some references to drug use and some news footage of police and protester violence during apartheid. Expect strong, but brief swearing, specifically in lyrics, including "faggot," "f--k," and "hooker."

What's the story?

On the cusp of greatness, after recording what some music-industry insiders call one of the best albums ever, 1970's artist Rodriguez finds himself with a record that's dead on arrival. Soon after, he disappears, amid whispers that he killed himself. Against all odds, his music manages to wend its way to South Africa, where it becomes a hit. But where is Rodriguez and what happened to him? This documentary sets out to solve the mystery.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is such a wild story that it has to be true; nobody would take it seriously if it was fiction. Director Malik Bendjelloul tells the tale with quiet precision, and before you can figure out who it's about and why we should care about a musician who never caught on, you're hooked. It helps that the music is soulful and piercing -- as several of the music industry executives say, it's hard to figure out why Rodriguez's albums flopped. (Therein lies a major hook for the movie, though.) It's also easy to see how his songs of quiet strength and gentle rebellion caught on in South Africa during the apartheid years.

But that's just the foundation of this film. The real story is how a dogged music journalist tried to find out what happened to the mysterious Rodriguez, a man who had seemingly dropped off the planet. What happens next is heartwarming and uplifting, as we learn happens to someone who discovers very late in life that he's not the failure he had thought he was.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the filmmakers choice to make a movie about Rodriguez. What makes his story compelling? Where would you look for a good story to tell in film or writing?

  • How did Rodriguez react to learning about his unexpected fame? How do you think you would react?

  • What do you think about Rodriguez's music? Why didn't his career take off? Why did it catch on in South Africa?

Movie details

DVD release date:January 22, 2013
Cast:Rodriguez
Director:Malik Bendjelloul
Studio:Sony Pictures Classics
Genre:Documentary
Topics:Arts and dance, Music and sing-along
Run time:86 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:brief strong language and some drug references
Award:Academy Award

This review of Searching for Sugar Man was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Educator and Parent Written byAllen Wang June 2, 2013
 

Sugar Man Reviews of The Film

I Think "Sugar Man" is A Good Movie But Lots of Language And So, I Want P arents And Kids Not To Learn These Languages From This Movie "Sugar Ma n" And Be Cautious While Watching This Very Good Film!
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written byilovemaroon5 November 2, 2013
 

Good Role Models, but Some Iffy Parts

I watched this with my parents. They are from South Africa so they are in love with Rodriguez. The documentary does show some pot, and there is some foul language, but it has a good message. "Sugar man" shows determination and perseverance to find out about Rodriguez's death, discovering that he is alive and well. It may bore some people who don't know the singer, but it an outstanding film and worth it to watch.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass