Sunshine State

How Florida's pirate past impacts on its present and future is probably too much for one movie to handle. Don't tell that to rebel writer-director John Sayles, who uses two families — one black, one white — to show how race, politics and land grabbing divide Floridians.

Edie Falco sparks the film as Marly, a divorcee who runs a motel owned by her retired dad (Ralph Waite). Once a mermaid in a local underwater show, Marly has let her dreams fade, but not her spirit. When her golf-pro lover (Marc Blucas) splits, she takes up with a landscape architect (Timothy Hutton) barely in town long enough for his building firm to run her out of business.esiree (a stunning Angela Bassett) was fifteen and pregnant when she left home in the black enclave. She's back to confront her mother (Mary Alice, alive with fire and grace), a guardian to a teen arsonist (Alex Lewis) in a family house she refuses to sell.

Sunshine State is teeming with characters, from a chamber-of-commerce exec (Mary Steenburgen) and her banker husband (Gordon Clapp) to a black doctor (Bill Cobbs) who fights their urge to despoil in the name of progress. One developer (Alan King) describes the scam paradise he's building on swampland as "nature on a leash." You can feel the heat that ignites this gripping tale, and the humor and humanity that root it in feeling. Sayles knows how to use his social conscience: He lets it rip.

From The Archives Issue 899: July 4, 2002