Dubbed the “Cocaine Cowgirls,” “Cocaine Cuties” and “Cocaine Babes,” the new film Sugar (premiering on Amazon’s Prime Video Nov. 18), is inspired by the story of two Canadian women, influencers from Quebec, convicted in 2018 of smuggling cocaine into Sydney, Australia aboard a luxury cruise ship, one of the largest drug busts in Australian history.
As the real story goes, Melina Roberge and Isabelle Lagacé (age 24 and 30, respectively, at the time of sentencing) were aboard the MS Sea Princess luxury cruise ship in 2016. Police dogs located cocaine in their cabin and Roberge then admitted she agreed to smuggle the drugs in exchange for the opportunity to experience this luxury vacation and post about it on social media.
At the time, the judge said this was a "sad" reflection of people Roberge’s age who “seek to attain such a vacuous existence where how many likes they receive is their currency.”
Sugar is a fictionalized version of events, simply inspired by this story. Jasmine Sky Sarin plays Melanie, who naively follows a new friend, Chloe (Katherine McNamara), who she meets at a Montreal club, on a free cruise. Chloe has some debt to pay to a local gangster and is taking this trip to make some money from Jules (Éric Bruneau).
Melanie and Chloe are expected to entertain Jules’ associates and collect their payment at the end of the cruise, all while posting about the luxury experience on social media. In reality, they end up being participants in a drug smuggling operation.
“It's a very relatable story, which I really liked,” Sarin told Yahoo Canada about what attracted her to playing Melanie. “Obviously these are extreme circumstances…but overall, it's about this character, Melanie in particular, just wanting to find herself.”
“She wants to feel seen and like she has a purpose, and she goes to these kind of insane lengths to find that, but I definitely saw a lot of myself in her and I think a lot of people will, too. Especially now with the use of social media so prevalent in our society.”
One of the big questions is why would Melanie, having just bet Chloe briefly, feel comfortable going on this mysterious vacation. For Sarin, all signs point to Melanie's sheltered life experience, while also being caught up in Chloe’s influencer persona.
“Melanie hasn't quite experienced heartbreak or betrayal really yet in her life, so she trusts people very easily and she believes the best in people, which is an amazing quality to have sometimes, sometimes it gets you in trouble,” Sarin explained. “I think that she really genuinely does trust Chloe in the way she sees her as this larger than life influencer, this celebrity basically is taking me under her wing and wants to be my friend.”
We just want to feel like we have a purpose. Especially in the sea of social media, it's really easy to feel lost and to feel invisible almost, and I've definitely felt like that before. It's a good lesson in what lengths will you go to feel validated and to find that and at the end of the day,...what is the point of it?... It really doesn't matter what [strangers] think about me.Jasmine Sky Sarin, Actor
'Social media is the new Hollywood'
For Éric Bruneau, playing Jules meant often seemingly being the “bad guy” who puts Melanie and Chloe in this situation, but he does have a real love for Chloe, and he maybe isn't as malicious as you may initially think.
“You’ve got to care for your character, I know it's a little bit cliche,” Bruneau said. “This is what was interesting with me and [director Vic Sarin], there is no bad guy.”
“I need to be the bad guy, if we want the story to work, but it's always about trying to find this humanity in all the characters that you're playing.”
In terms of the commentary on obsession with getting attention on social media, something that has become even more prevalent since the Melina Roberge and Isabelle Lagacé case years ago, Bruneau calls social media “the new Hollywood.”
“The fact that these two girls got on the ship, trying to have more likes, more followers, I think it says something about us right now, craving for existing,” Bruneau said. “If it's not that, they're not existing."
Social media is the new Hollywood. You can become a star and this is what you need. This is what you want. This is what people are craving for. It's like a drug. So this is interesting, the parallel with the drugs and their drug is to be seen.Éric Bruneau, Actor
That social commentary is something Jasmine Sky Sarin hopes the audience takes from the film.
“I think that the main message of the film is that not everything is what it seems,” Sarin said. “I really hope that people take from this film,...just to be cautious online and just to be mindful of what you're consuming, and the thoughts that you have when you're online - are you comparing yourself to other people? Do you find yourself feeling kind of down about it or feeling like you have to prove yourself?
“I just hope that people can take that away from this and remember that the grass is not always greener on the other side.”