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Sunshine State

It is rare these days that movies have something to say. It is even rarer that they can successfully integrate some sort of message with a story to make a truly compelling story. John Sayles' latest film, Sunshine State, falls somewhere into the cracks between these two points. As a filmmaker, Sayles (Limbo, Men with Guns) has a lot to say about things like heritage, economic growth, and community. At times, it seems like he may have a little too much to say. Sunshine State suffers from being a little too talky. The story is lost amidst the message, and it feels like Sayles is using his characters as a way to preach towards the audience. What is there is a large cast of good actors working with rich characters, they just don't do much.

The story takes place on Plantation Island, a small community that big business is looking to buy out and redevelop. They want to buy out most of the local business and homeowners, something the locals are adamantly opposing. Marly Temple (Edie Falco, Judy Berlin, Random Hearts) owns the Sea-Vue motel and restaurant that is bleeding money. She hates the job, but keeps it out of respect for her father. She begins something between a friendship/relationship with Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton, Deterrence, The General's Daughter), one of the architects that work for the developers. On the other side of town, Dr. Lloyd (Bill Cobbs, Enough, Random Hearts) is a community activist opposed for historical reasons. The land once was the only beach where African Americans could go and have fun, and although there is nothing there now, he wants to preserve it.

Desiree Perry (Angela Basset, The Score, Boesman and Lena) is returning to the community for the first time in over fifteen years with her husband Reggie (James McDaniel, Deliberate Intent). She is on tenuous terms with her mother Eunice (Mary Alice, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, The Photographer) after having left town due to a pregnancy. Flash Phillips (Tom Wright, The Keyman, Alex in Wonder), a college football sensation sidelined by an injury, is also back. Other characters include Delia (Jane Alexander, The Cider House Rules, Bitter Winter), who is Marly's mother and used to teach Desiree in high school, and, in an almost ignored story, Earl Pickney (Gordon Clapp, Rules of Engagement, Skeletons in the Closet), who is taking bribes from the developers, and his wife Francine (Mary Steenburgen, I Am Sam, Life as a House), who is charge of the annual Buccaneer Days, a community festival that nobody cares about. The two are in the film, but have so little screen time that they make no difference at all.

One of the issues here is that there are too many people. This does give Sunshine State a sense of scope by showing how one thing can affect many different people. The flip side of this is that there is never time to delve deeply into the lives of these people. Sayles can only give a superficial look at who they truly are. Other good actors like Alan King (Rush Hour 2, Saltwater) and Miguel Ferrer (Traffic, Where's Marlowe?) feel like less than blips on the radar. Sayles' views are squarely against development, or at least this type of development. It is ecologically unsound, takes away the unique culture and feel of the area by homogenizing it, and uses money to push the little guys away. Whether or not the viewer agrees with the argument is not the point, Sayles does a manageable job of presenting his side, but not enough to convince anybody. The running time is a bit long, but passes by surprising quickly because the people are so interesting. Now, if only they had something substantial to do.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 12 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, a sexual reference, and thematic elements.

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