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By Don R. Lewis | December 26, 2002

Ah, sunny Florida! This is the state where John Sayles has set his latest film following on the heels of Alaska (“Limbo”), Latin America (“Men With Guns”), and Texas (“Lone Star”). Sayles avoids jumping on the obvious bandwagon of picking on Florida for screwing up our election. Instead he uses Florida as the “every-state” to commentate on the re-occurring pattern of America trouncing all over native lands and peoples in pursuit of some serious cash.
Call it Darwinism, call it barbarism, call it opportunism but the stronger species of American takes whatever they want from the little man. Sayles not-so-covertly weaves this message into “Sunshine State” as we follow the lives of several inhabitants of Florida’s Lincoln Beach.
Lincoln Beach was the only beach in America that allowed black people to visit prior to the civil rights movement. Land developers are now moving in like vultures to build strip malls and hotels on the sleepy community. Beach front property has major value and a community as poor as this basically stands no chance against high priced realtors and lawyers. Some people like motel/ restaurant owner Marly Temple (Falco) welcome the chance to escape their smalltown roots while others like Dr. Lloyd (Cobbs) think Lincoln Beach should be preserved as a national landmark.
Sayles introduces a bevy of characters, all of which are striving to get away from their past or hold on to what was important about it. “Sunshine State” seems to center on the return of Desiree Perry (Bassett) who left under a cloud of small town gossip. Yet the film goes deeper than her story. While each character is different, all have the similarity of a broken dream or a lost ideal. In this is the brilliance of the film. Sayles takes these characters and gives them depth, all the while any description of the character is somewhat symbolic for what is happening to Lincoln Beach- or more specifically what is happening to America.
Every character is given great development, either subtly or through dialogue. This is one of Sayles trademarks, and probably my favorite of his. However with so many characters this film drags badly in the middle. Still, “Sunshine State” makes a bold statement about the U.S. and the ending poses a question that will make you leave the theater thinking. Since so many films these days spell everything out for you, “Sunshine State” is a nice change of pace that provokes thought.

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