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Sunshine State

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Sunshine State

Starring: Edie Falco, Angela Bassett
Director: John Sayles
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 141 Minutes
Release Date: June 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel, Mary Steenburgen, Miguel Ferrer, Marc Blucas, Jane Alexander, Alan King, Bernard Alexander Lewis

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Bob Dylan once said `The times they are a-changin' to which the French reply, `The more things change, the more they remain the same.' The theme of change is uppermost in John Sayles ironically-named `Sunshine State,' one of his most mature and accomplished films to date. Sayles, who wrote and directed this two-hour and twenty-one minute saga, his thirteenth film, takes on both maxims leaving us to judge not so much whether the times are a-changin' (this is obvious) but whether universal truths of love, responsibility, and the impact of history make everything ultimately remain the same.

Done in a loose, character-driven style in which the lives residents of two adjacent communities on Florida's Plantation Island (actually filmed on Amelia Island) occasionally intersect, `Sunshine State' reminds one not only of the Robert Altman signature but of the film making style of Lawrence Kasdan, whose `The Big Chill' looked at an ensemble of former college-radical friends and whose `Grand Canyon' embraces the intersection of lives of a lawyer, a wife, a tow-truck driver and others.

Two women anchor Sayles' story–Desiree (Angela Bassett), who returns home to Plantation Island after a 25-year hiatus, having been driven out by her mother's disapproval of Desiree's pregnancy; and Marly (Edie Falco), who is running her father's motel out of a sense of responsibility to the aging owner and is eager to abandon a life she hates. A pot pourri of characters, both those with long backgrounds in the island community and a group of strangers who are intent on exploiting its commercial value, are introduced, and while there are no real fireworks, we observe a loving portrayal of the difficulties and conflicts faced by this fairly remote community in our age of homogenization and identity loss.

Skimming the surface of the story, Eunice (Mary Alice) is surprised at the visit of her daughter Desiree who has come into her life together with her new trophy husband, anesthesiologist Dr. Reginald Perry (James McDaniel)–who entertains fits of jealousy watching his slim but occupationally frustrated wife flirt with her old football-hero boyfriend Flash Phillips (Tom Wright). Francine Pinckneya (Mary Steenburgen) tries to muster together the island's inhabitants for the annual Buccaneer Days festival but sparse attendance implies a lack of feeling for history. Dr. Lloyd (Bill Cobbs), leads a group of long-termers from the black enclave, still segregated, in protest against the plans of developers to buy out and bulldoze the area to make way for condos and a Disney-esque, faux nature preserve while Francine's husband Earl (Gordon Clapp) flirts with suicide, overwhelmed with gambling debts he has no hopes of paying off.

If Sayles had wanted to make a cheap, agitprop drama, he could easily have manipulated his audience to side with the folks who resist the soul-less encroaching of globalization, homogenization, blandness and history-indifferent gentrification. But the differences in his people's viewpoints lead us to believe that there's not just one side to the situation facing Florida, or America, or the Westernized world in general. While the crotchety, diabetic and near-blind patriarch and father of Marla (Ralph Waite) whines and groans about The New World, he is not unsympathetic to his daughter's wish to get out of town and start a new life, away from her roots. While the town's culture maven and theater coach (Jane Alexander) is fixated on her off-off-off Broadway productions, she is cynical enough to take advantage of the situation offered to the folks by these developers. Sayles throws in a deus ex machina, a final irony to a picture that is an occasionally humorous, never cheaply melodramatic piece with some stunning acting particularly by Edie Falco as a woman whose luck with men could be better and Mary Alice as a good-hearted mom who made a mistake with her daughter when times were different but is willing to admit her errors and redeem herself. Alan King does a smashing job framing the movie on the golf course, expounding, albeit without real grief, about how life today may be prosperous but lacking the drama evoked by events such as the Age of Exploration with its search for gold, glory and gospel.

Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten

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