A review of “Sunshine State” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language, nudity

Run Time: 2 hours, 21 minutes

 

 

Writer/director/editor John Sayles, film’s ascetic Renaissance man, does what he does best in this nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of a fading Florida coast community.

Delrona Beach is a sleepy coastal tourist Mecca, complete with seedy oceanfront motels, miles of golf course, tacky t-shirt shops, and the ubiquitous man-eating alligators.  Ch-ch-ch-changes are creeping in on the goodwill of Delrona and its traditional Buccaneer Days Festival, all in the name of progress. Real estate development is slowly transforming the modest beachside community into an upscale, well-groomed playground for winter-weary Northerners, presenting long-time locals with a bewildering dilemma: cash in, or stand their ground.

Sayles’ work (“Passion Fish”, “Lone Star”) is perpetually character-driven, born of the people and for the people.  “Sunshine” is no exception; scrupulously chronicling the highs and lows of Delrona’s downtrodden.  Marly Temple (Edie Falco) is living her father’s dream of running a motel, a dead-end job that is more akin to a nightmare.  Sick and tired of avoiding her loony ex or waking up next to the wrong man, Marly throws herself into a promising romance with Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton), a smooth, educated landscape architect who’s in town to explore the possibility of transforming a section of beach property into a gated community.

One town over, in the African-American enclave of Lincoln Beach, Desiree Perry (Angela Basset) has returned home for a long-overdue visit.  Desiree is anxious to flaunt her anesthesiologist husband (James McDaniel), and to exorcise the demons she left behind as a pregnant, disgraced 15-year old.  Emotions run rampant due to some unfinished business between mother and daughter, and the unexpected appearance of Desiree’s former teenage lover.

Atmosphere abounds.  Broken hearts, family skeletons, and decades of thwarted expectations weave a spare, compelling spell.  No tricky six-degrees-of-separation, no pat solutions, just plain ole folks living the day-to-day. Pacing is slow and measured, occasionally giving way to narrative slack.  Sayles’ players perform admirably with their word-heavy roles, leisurely opening up about roots, relationships, and the swampy politics of the evaporating Florida coast.  Short on thrills but long on human commotion, “Sunshine” is vintage Sayles.