Directed By: John Sayles
Starring: Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, Alex Lewis
Tag line: "Take a vacation with JOHN SAYLES"
Trivia: The restaurant that Reggie Perry and Desiree Stokes Perry stop at to get directions at is at a actual motel in Yulee Florida. The beach store that is supposedly across the street is actually several miles away on Ameila Island
Director John Sayles’ Sunshine State takes place in an unsullied area of Florida, a town the land developers haven’t gotten their hands on. Not yet, anyway… but a number of them have been hanging around in recent weeks, all looking to snatch up property as quickly as they can. Marly Temple (Edie Falco) lives in Delrona Beach, and runs the motel / restaurant her father, Furman (Ralph Waite), started up years earlier. She hates the job, but the untimely deaths of her twin brothers, who were being groomed to take over, forced Marly to step in. One day, she meets Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton), an architect hoping to buy some land to build on, and despite the fact his plans put him in direct competition with the motel, Marly finds herself attracted to him.
In the neighboring community of Lincoln Beach, former resident Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) has just returned home after many years away. Now married to Reggie (James McDaniel), Desiree harbors ill feelings towards her family, who, when she became pregnant at the age of 15, sent her to live with relatives. Her mother, Eunice (Mary Alice), has herself taken in a young man named Terrell (Alex Lewis), who’s had some trouble with the law. Dr. Elton Lloyd (Bill Cobbs) is a longtime resident of Lincoln, and hopes to stop the developers from spoiling the area’s picturesque scenery, thus preserving its beauty for generations to come. Unfortunately, he's not getting much help.
A number of other characters make their way in and out of Sunshine State, including local sports celebrity Lee “Flash” Phillips (Tom Wright), a college football star whose career was cut short by injury, and Earl Pinkney (Gordon Clapp), a compulsive gambler, and his wife, Francine (Mary Steenburgen), who’s helping to organize the town’s upcoming Buccaneer Days celebration. Yet what makes Sunshine State an interesting film isn’t its large cast, but how it presents their stories. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” in this movie; not even the developers. There are just regular people, trying to make their way in the world as best they can. Far from drawing lines in the sand, forcing us to choose sides, Sunshine State simply relates its various tales, leaving us to decide which of its many characters we admire, and which ones we don’t.
More than this, though, Sunshine State is about tradition, and how the younger generation doesn’t always honor the customs of their elders. Along with the stories presented throughout the movie (especially that of Dr. Lloyd’s attempt to prevent developers from moving in), this lack of respect for tradition is addressed by a group of golfers (one of whom is played by comedian Alan King), who make a series of cameo appearances, lamenting the way things are and wishing for a return to the “good, old days”.
Yet, despite all their differences, all the conflicts and strife, the men and women at the heart of Sunshine State are one with this community, and will always hold a special place in their hearts for the area they call home. So, even if the landscape does eventually change, and its long-standing rituals are a thing of the past, the town itself will never die. There’s definitely some comfort to be taken from that.