Sunshine State

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Last weekend I saw John Sayles' latest triumph, Sunshine State. It's an ensemble modern day drama focused on a small crossection of people, all on a fictitious east coast Florida island. It's involoving and funny and true.

The previous Sayles movie it's most like, I suppose, is Lone Star (1996), which focused on two generations in a Texas border town. Sunshine State isn't quite as 'heavy' as that one, nor does it employ a flashback narrative or use the skeleton of a mystery genre plot. Just the same, it's like Lone Star in other more general and thematic ways.

The cast includes plenty of familiar Sayles faces - Gordon Clapp, Richard Edson, Sam McMurray, Perry Lang, Tom Wright and Clifton James, though his workhorses are all absent this time (namely David Stratharian & Joe Morton). In general, this cast is largely new to his work, which is a nice mix to see. Filling the most prominent roles are Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Ralph Waite, Jane Alexander, James McDaniel, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Alice and Bill Cobbs. All the actors, from the biggest roles to the smallest, are extremely well cast.

Edie Falco, who after years of unmemorable teeny supporting roles became an overnight sensation as Tony's strong-willed Italian wife on "The Sopranos", gets a real nice showcase here. This character is very different from Carmela Soprano - a townie who has inhereted a family business she hates and a flightly ex-husband (the always funny Edson) who is always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, so she drinks to further dull the dullness of her prison of circumstance.

The other main showcase role is Angela Bassett's. She plays a woman who got off of the island when she was a teenager and never looked back. The details of her leaving are eventually fully revealed in the narrative, and while not the happiest situation, she would have found a way out one way or another. She has returned with her handsome and understanding anesthesiologist husband (James McDaniel of "NYPD Blue"). They're visiting her mother, played by the wonderful Mary Alice, who she hasn't so much as spoken to in years. Their confrontations, sometimes comical, but always underlined with real disappointment and regret, are a joy to watch as they come to a head.

Most of the other various stories and characters are linked to these main two in some fashion or another, covering the whole socio-economic gamet of the island.

The main plot, such as it were, concerns a real estate development outfit that wants to basically buy-out all the remaining older residents and business owners so they can put in a faceless bunch of strip malls and chain motels to make their little island into a cash cow. But this island holds its own history of course, including having once been a small haven for African-Americans in the '40 and '50s, before desegregation. But the emotional arc of the stories is what Sunshine State is really about, as you'd expect. And those moments pay off wonderfully, in a typically low-key but extremely well-written John Sayles manner. Thematically it's about regret, loss, timing and the power the past holds on all of us. As I said in my very first sentence, another triumph for writer/director Sayles.

It's only playing the art house circuit of course and will not likely break through to the multiplexes. But it is definitely worth seeking out if at all possible.

Grade: A-
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"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

i agree with just about everything you said, except i think it's more comparable to an earlier sayles film, 'city of hope' than to 'lonestar.'
a couple exceptional/ detracting features of this movie:
->way, way more speaking roles than usual, even for sayles, lots of talking, so even more emphasis on characters (which is a good thing, since they are sayles's strong point)
->some of the metaphorical soliliquoys were a little too obvious in their delivery, which i found mildly annoying. like you can tell when the characters are in serious mode by the fact that they start using very thinly veiled expressions in the place of concrete advice/insight. though it still works, it's less graceful than i wanted. this use of blatant metaphors also made some of the dialogue that i thought wasnt so important stand out a little too much, but now i'm just nitpicking.

better than just about anything else i saw over the summer, and so far is number one on my top ten: 2002. i give it an 'a,' one of sayles' better pictures, not quite the pinacle of excellence that were 'matewan' and 'men with guns.'

what did you think of 'limbo?'

I saw this at cinevegas 3 months ago, and like i said, it was really good, but ANgela Bassets plot sucked, it was really boring.
"Who comes at 12:00 on a Sunday night to rent Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid?"
-Hollywood Video rental guy to me