If action adventure pics are high drama, writer-director John Sayles definitely sticks to the lower road, one where the events and characters retain a more familiar level of activity and conflict. In a world where life events rarely climb to the dramatic, there is comfort in the familiar, with people like us. The risk is in maintaining involvement and Sayles seems to achieve a just high enough level of it to allow us to float on a bubble of interest.
"Sunshine State" should be classified among his more successful efforts along these lines, but short of the top, like near "Lone Star" whose complex themes of nationalistic identity and personal histories makes it a favorite. Here, the central issue providing the dramatic context is real estate development in a small coastal town in northern Florida, which theatens to wipe out businesses and pressure family structures.
Sayles approach is not only to present all sides of the issue, but to entangle the players on opposing sides -- sort of a sleeping with the enemy credo that he puts to good dramatic use in his portrayal of fictional Plantation Island and its citizenry.
Toward this end he involves innkeeper and divorcee Marly Temple (Edie Falco) with real estate architect Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton). Of course, that's only after she comes to grips with the fact that her local squeeze, Scotty Duval (Marc Blucas), is going off on his golf pro destiny without her. What's a girl with an unwanted business to do?
One thing she wants to do is get rid of the motel and restaurant she's been running since father Furman (Ralph Waite) retired. A good enough price to satisfy pop is all that's standing between her being the first to succumb to the developers and personal happiness.
Meanwhile, local corrupt politician Earl Pickney (Gordon Clapp), one of the more fumbling suicide attempters in movie history, is getting into bed with the real estate enemy to pay off his gambling debts while loving wife Francine (Mary Steenburgen) does her best to create public events for the community.
Infomercial actress Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) returns home to mother Mary Alice (Eunice Stokes) with new husband Reggie (James McDaniel), a successful anesthesiologist, to face the mortifications of her childhood that chased her out of town as a pregnant unmarried young girl. Her confrontation with the high school hero that knocked her up (Tom Wright) plays out on Sayles canvas, as well.
There're the bad real estate guys, led by Lester (Miguel Ferrer), out for the usual developer's buck, trying to convince himself and anyone else who'll listen that what he's doing is best for the community "in the long run".
It's all in the best tradition of ensemble playing and very much in Sayles' patented style. Some of it rises to very good; some of it is downright aggravating. In the latter category falls a number of performances that seem oddly self important. Perhaps the worst of these is Jane Alexander's role. As Marly's mother, she makes little distinction between how she functions as a drama teacher and how she delivers the lines of her real life, a speech pattern that belongs in front of the footlights, not in a realistic drama.
The only performance worthy of comparison in boredom is husband Ralph Waite, equally given to the excesses of a long winded part. These two must have practiced together and fed each other's tone of gravitas.
Two of the better performances are from the station house at "NYPD". James McDaniel, the former chief of detectives on that TV series is here the amiable husband that no one can feel uncomfortable around. And one of the detectives still working that squad, Gordon Clapp, shows us fine shadings in his straight but shifty character control. His acting is coming along fine.
Probably the standout character in the entire ensemble is Edie Falco who is lovable and sympathetic no matter what kind of man she might get involved with. This actress can portray real like few others and she's incapable of a false note. There are few who project such integrity of character as well as such a huggable disposition. The perfect counterfoil for Tony Soprano; delightfully fulfilling here.
Despite a few failing components, one is thankful for a director with such compelling awareness and concern with the themes of our times to bring them to our attention in an essentially loving way. In addition, he can be applauded for most of his cast choices (though we can do without his perrenial buddy Richard Edson). We pat John Sayles on the back one more time.
The soundtrack album
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