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Sunshine State review

When it comes to dismissing commercial considerations and pursuing personal visions, few filmmakers are as unswerving as John Sayles. His work bustles with rounded characters, naturalistic dialogue, multilayered plots. His portraits of communities - - be they a West Virginian mining town in Matewan, a contemporary New Jersey metropolis in City Of Hope or a Tex-Mex border town in Lone Star - - cover every angle, personal, political, economical, sociological. Problems faced are those of an everyday nature. Colour schemes employed are banal. Outcomes consist of pain mixed with hope, joy with frustration.

Sunshine State is another intricate, detailed study of a locale, this time a small coastal town in Northern Florida. It's the visit of Desiree (Angela Basset), a former resident, that ushers us in, allowing us to watch as she warily circles her mother (Mary Alice) and catches up with old friends. From this starting point a multitude of characters are introduced. Among them are the strong-willed manager of a local motel, Marly (the superb Edie Falco, of The Sopranos), the highly-strung organiser of the town's annual Buccaneer celebration, Francine (Mary Steenburgen), and Jack (Timothy Hutton), the good-natured landscape technician in charge of `cosmetically enhancing' Lincoln Beach, the town's finest attribute.

Writer-director-editor Sayles scratches patiently away for 141 minutes, weaving a web of complex relationships, exposing the ongoing battle between residents and developers, and revealing the poignant history of Lincoln Beach. He argues that we're now living in impoverished times, times lacking the excitement of, say, the buccaneer days here being celebrated, times where gobbling up plots of land has replaced prospecting for gold and selfish whims have ousted community bonds. Yet through it all he refuses to simply preach or vilify, instead choosing to balance the gloom by highlighting links to previous generations - the roots that define us - and pinpointing glimmers of hope.

We may be struggling, but we're sure as hell not doomed yet.

Another intricately plotted, moving and clever drama from the ever-excellent John Sayles. Few American filmmakers credit an audience with such intelligence.

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