A review of “Sunshine State”
by Jeanne Aufmuth
Rating: PG-13 for
hours, 21 minutes
John Sayles, film’s ascetic Renaissance man, does what he does best in this
nuanced, thoughtful portrayal of a fading Florida coast
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.
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.
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.
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.