Written and Directed by: John Sayles
Starring: Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Jane Alexander, Gordon Clapp, Bill Cobbs, Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel, Mary Steenburgen
- Running audio commentary with director Sayles
Released by: Sony Pictures
My Advice: Rent it.
Florida is a favorite daydream for those stuck in the dead of winter in boring dead-end jobs. The promise of warm sunny days, tropical beaches and easy living tempts many to move to our fair state. But I live here and I can tell you, it’s a load of crap. Not that Florida is the Ninth Level of Hell, but with hurricanes, West Nile Virus, massive overpopulation, humidity of 150%, and the constant fear that Disney will acquire the rest of the state in a coup, it’s not the Garden of Eden either. From the beginning, when Ponce de Leon sought eternal youth and only found festering swamps and alligators with a taste for conquistador tartar, people have seen their dreams die a quick death of heat exhaustion. But if you leave those wild dreams gasping for water, you find that life can be halfway decent here in the Sunshine State.
This is the main theme for John Sayles‘ latest movie. He introduces us to the town of Delrona Beach, which is in the midst of a development boom, and where wilderness is being bulldozed to create “luxury estates”, cookie-cutter gated communities with the ubiquitous eighteen holes. One of the areas of interest is the Sea-Vue Motel and Restaurant, run by Marly Temple (Falco), a one-time “mermaid” of the Weeki Wachee Underwater Review and stuck in a rut. She would like to sell, but her father won’t even hear and her dramatic mother is more concerned with her community theater. So she’s stuck in town with an ex-husband trying to con her with get-rich-quick schemes. Not exactly life in Paradise. Maybe responding to her attraction to the landscaper architect (Hutton) for the new development will get her out of her rut. Then there’s Desiree Perry (Bassett), a former resident of Lincoln Beach, a black enclave of Delrona Beach. She was a beauty and looked forward to stardom until she was made to leave town at fifteen under a cloud of unplanned pregnancy. Now she returns to her disapproving mother, not a star but with a handsome anesthesiologist (McDaniel) as a nice consolation prize. She finds that she must deal with her past if she wants a happy future.
These are but two of the stories under the Florida sun, but the common theme of people trying to make terms with dreams unrealized runs throughout. Sayles also uses this town in transition, dealing with the rampant expansion of development into their small town, to give us an interesting cross-section of the town populace and giving actors great roles to work with. There really isn’t a plot in the conventional sense, but watching the characters deal (or fail to deal) with their situation is plenty to keep them engaged. All the cast excel, but Edie Falco and Angela Bassett give the characters of Marly and Desiree a perfect mix of sadness and strength. But this is an ensemble piece; all the cast gets their moments to shine in the film. Sayles does go overboard when it comes to depicting the evils of development in Florida. Not to say that urban and suburban sprawl is wonderful, but the director does gets preachy and no one like being preached at.
Sayles goes into detail of how he shot the film on location in the commentary, which is the only feature on the DVD. Being on location and having a limited budget, keeping the continuity of a scene became even more important. Even with these challenges, Sayles shows how one scene was shot at two different times and locations, but can feel seamless. He also talks of using local talent and gives credit to several actors in the film who came from the area and held their own with the seasoned Hollywood professionals. Being both the writer sand director, Sayles observations on this film are even more interesting to listen to.
For a well-acted, well-done film, Sunshine State is an obvious pick–but one that should be done at a video rental joint.