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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Sunshine State
Sunshine State
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // November 19, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Kerry Fall | posted December 20, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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John Sayles has a history of making films that focus on a slice of culture and the interaction of various economic classes, social orders, and ethnic groups within that environment—all in a less-than-conventional way. If Sunshine State—Sayles's latest effort—had been made as typical Hollywood fare, the setup would be rich developers versus ignorant-but-goodhearted landowners, black versus white, and greed versus compassion. Instead, Sayles prefers to take a more realistic approach, working in a world where shades of gray are plentiful and there are no easy answers.

The story is set on a Florida island resort that has been pinpointed for takeover by avaricious developers. Sleepy little Plantation Island is outwardly quaint and appears almost untouched by the outside world. But as the characters reveal themselves, Sayles makes it clear that these people are as exposed to modern culture as anyone else in American society. It is this blending of old Southern ways with a new, faster world that makes the story and the townspeople in Sunshine State so believable.

Marly (Edie Falco) reluctantly runs the local motel and restaurant that was started by her father (Ralph Waite) and his local theater-star wife (Jane Alexander). Marly desperately wants out of her local life and responsibilities, but she has a habit of picking the wrong guys to save her. Desiree (Angela Bassett) left town in disgrace when she was a teenager and has returned with her successful husband (James McDanial) to face her demons and her aging mother. The performances of these actors are superb, and, as always, Sayles establishes a slow steady pace that gives them time and room to settle into their characters. Other characters, (like Mary Steenbergen as a local Chamber of Commerce booster and Gordon Clapp as her suicidal husband) are less fully developed. Sayles's usually successful style of weaving unrelated scenes together like a giant quilt of characters and lifestyles (a technique more successfully employed in earlier films like Matewan, Passion Fish, and Lonestar) is sometimes distracting here as some characters of interest get lost while others get too little screen time.

Albeit not as strong as some of Sayles's earlier works, Sunshine State is nonetheless an interesting study of small-town civics and the evolution of American growth.

VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer offers sharpness and clarity on a single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL), to give a rich lush appearance to the vivid greens and blues of the film's Florida setting.

AUDIO: The Dolby Digital 5.0 audio track is clear and crisp. This is especially critical during Sayles' trademark multiple-conversation scenes, which are meant to generate an atmosphere of blended lives and characters. Though not all that powerful, the soundtrack and corresponding audio are fitting to the feel of this small-town film.

PACKAGING:Sunshine State is a single-disc presented in a snap case.

EXTRAS:Extras include subtitles/captions in English and French, the original trailer for Sunshine State, and trailers for three earlier Sayles's films (Passion Fish, Secret of Roan Inish, and Limbo). A fascinating full-length audio commentary gives the viewer an insight into the mind of writer, director, editor Sayles. From technical information to character analysis, Sayles has much to add about his approach to the film, his chosen themes, and his casting choices.

OVERALL: Although Sunshine State tries to be too many things—a lesson in land-development practices, a character study of small-town life, and a look at modern racial tensions—it is a noble effort and film worth attention.
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