Sunshine State

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 07/01/02 08:06:44

"Tightly woven drama about hometown blues"
3 stars (Average)

This is one of those films that is so tightly woven that even when the foreground stops being interesting, the background is still churning up interest. The relationship between the black and white denizens of Delrona beach was once strained and now enjoys a self-imposed separate but equal status. Once you get past the race issue, you get down to stories that are only partially informed by race and are mostly just the trials and tribulations of folks workin’ it out in the realms of love, tradition and honor.

Delrona Beach is the latest hot spot for development but entrenched residents are not so anxious to sell their property and watch their town turn into a playground for retired middle managers. Adjacent to Delrona Beach is Lincoln Beach, an area developed by black artists and musicians as a safe haven from Good Ol’ Boy Southern Inhospitality.

The movie takes place during Buccaneer Days cooked up by self-appointed civic pride queen, Francine Pinckney (Mary Steenburgen). Everyone’s lives are falling apart and succumbing to forces they aren’t aware of. The troubles on the surface are a pale reflection of deeper seated issues that have already undermined the glue holding together marriages, towns and communities. The foundation is already gone, and throughout the film, we watch the truth boil up the surface.

Edie Falco plays Marly Temple, who runs the motel that used to be owned by her father, Furman (Ralph Waite). The Senior Furman has long been the unofficial mayor of Delrona and has led the esprit de corps. He’s fought off many prospecting developers but now he’s letting Marly decide for herself what to do with his land. She’s not so sure she’s even interested in staying rooted in Delrona.

Meanwhile Desiree (Angela Basset) has returned to her roots after 25 years away and is facing a similar crisis of putting her past and present together.

While the stories about love and duty are interesting and resonant with “real life”, the background themes are more interesting. The whole process of putting on Buccaneer Days is a circus of organization and invention – nobody really cares as much as Francine about seeing it happen and the rest of town is just sort of humoring her. And she’s driving herself nuts. The small details that make this seem like small town life give the movie a realism that’s “funny because its true”.

And I also got off on the Developers vs. Conservationists story line because that is about an even bigger issue. I like that the film tackles personal issues as well as larger social issues and shows how those two seemingly separate things are completely intertwined.

Mostly, it’s a lot of people trying to figure out what went wrong in the relationship department. I get bored of relationship drama especially when there is no sense of moving towards any kind of conclusion. Happy Endings, at least at this point, aren’t always coming. I like movies that make give me a perspective or show me what someone else is going through, but I have to be in the mood to care.
Sunshine State isn’t a Hero’s tale but it has a lot of small things to keep the interest flowing. It covers a lot of story ground in a short space without losing it’s focus.

I couldn’t really follow the whole race line. I liked Desiree’s story about going away, making it as an actress (sort of) and her coming around to dealing with the people she left behind to pursue her dream. Everyone’s dreams and expectations are getting the best of them and in one weekend, all these fallible, flawed people face their demons and come to terms with and integrate them or are beat down by them.

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