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Sunshine State

Following his interesting if not wholly successful experiment with a more metaphorical approach to storytelling in Limbo, veteran independent American director John Sayles now makes a confident return to the sprawling, novelistic form of his earlier Lone Star and City of Hope. Like those indispensable American tales, Sunshine State is set in a particular milieu whose inhabitants are grappling with the winds of change. The fictional Delrona Beach (a small community of retirees and retail stores) and Lincoln Beach (an enclave of prosperous African-Americans) are located on Plantation Island, off the coast of Florida. Both groups feel under threat when the property developers take an interest in turning the area into a high-rise ‘beach resort community’.
Sayles is not interested in making any simplistic political point in this beautifully observed ensemble piece. On the contrary, the richness of the film derives from its acknowledgement of the complexities and contradictions that are part and parcel of each character’s life. The dignified Dr. Lloyd (Bill Cobbs) has difficulty mobilising any real opposition to the development plan, even amongst fellow elders of the communit. For the younger generation, the past is like a weight around their necks, and selling up and moving on has its attractions. Such is the case with Eunice (Edie Falco of The Sopranos in a terrific performance), who is fed up having to run her father’s motel and embarks on an affair with the developer’s architect (Timothy Hutton), a nice guy who might have been cast as a villain. But there are no villains in Sayles’ mosaic-like portrait of public and personal lives.
Performed to perfection by a cast that also includes Angela Bassett, Jane Alexander, Mary Steenburgen and Richard Edson, Sunshine State is filled with very believable characters who are dominated by the past and all too aware of the compromises and lost opportunities in their lives. Filmed in the director’s trademark naturalistic style and proceeding at a leisurely pace that’s entirely in keeping with its setting and characters, Sayles’ wholly admirable movie stands out like a beacon of civilized values in an American cinema more concerned with gadgets and gimmicks than real people and places.oPeter Walsh. (U.S.A., 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 141 mins.)

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