' Cinema Romantico: Dissecting a Scene from Sunshine State

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dissecting a Scene from Sunshine State

Typically our scene dissections here at Cinema Romantico center on visuals, a series of screenshots employed as a means to scrutinize the chosen scene to its core. John Sayles, however, is not the most visually progressive director around, championed more as a screenwriter and a storyteller, made great by his ability to draw on history, politics and psychology to implement multitudes of characters and weave extraordinary tapestries that are at once emotionally and socially revealing, like his signature, to our eye, film, 2002’s “Sunshine State.”

That is not to say “Sunshine State” is simply of the point and shoot variety. Sayles can and does employ visuals to enhance his narrative, such as the opening shot of a pirate ship on fire, one blurring past and present so that you don’t quite know where you are, which effectively suggests the film to come, one where the past always informs the present and the present will inevitably suggest the future. That last point is evinced in the closing shot, not to be revealed, but which for all of the grand Sayles-ian dialogue, which we will get to momentarily and which can sometimes suggest the stage more than the screen, could only have worked on that screen.

Still, the words in “Sunshine State” bear so much color and weight. That goes for all the characters in and around the white enclave of Delrona Beach and the black enclave of Lincoln Beach, each of which is being threatened by the ominously named Exley Plantation Estates, blatantly evoking a particularly sordid chapter of America’s past, which wants to re-brand the shoreline, and whose principals speak in war room-ish patter (that dialogue!). They employ a landscape architect named Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton) who is confronted one morning by Marly Temple (Edie Falco), proprietor of a shabby motel and restaurant which Exley yearns to buy and tear down. Later, after this confrontation, Marly re-encounters Jack at a watering hole and they have a back and forth, which is glorious, quintessential Sayles, one of my favorite bits of writing in any movie ever. And while I could break this whole thing down line by line, well, for the most part, I'd simply like to let those words speak for themselves.

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Marly, tossing back shots at the bar in the middle of the afternoon, notices Jack drinking across the way.


So she gets up from her bar stool and walks right over to him.


Marly: "Trying to imagine what it'd be like without all us crackers here?"
Jack: "You're everywhere."
Marly: "Small island."

Then, mirroring her no b.s. personality, she takes a chair and sits down right across from him without asking permission.


Jack: "Listen, I didn't mean to be intrusive the other morning. I thought they'd already contacted you about it."
Marly: "Don't worry about it. There are days when I imagine the whole thing blown away in a hurricane."

That "thing" being her motel and restaurant, where she theoretically should be even though she's here instead, downing shots and making small-cum-big talk in the middle of the day.

Jack: "Must be a lot of work being a hotelier."
Marly: "Motelier. And we got the restaurant. Lord, I hated working there when I was a kid."
Jack: "And now?"
Marly: "I've got three girls working for me who hate it as much as I do."
Jack: "So why do you keep-"
Marly: "Poetic justice."

Her reply is an example of the actor, Falco, putting her own stamp on the material, running roughshod right over the end of Hutton's line and giving "poetic justice" the air of a former punchline that now is too true, and has been too true for too long, to be funny anymore.

Marly: "What are you drinking?"
Jack: "Draft. How about you?"
Marly: "Shots. Tequila."
Jack: "Woah."
Marly: "I figure, you're gonna drink, why fuck around?"

This always make me think of the time Bill Murray told David Letterman that a person drank moonshine when they wanted to get drunk but didn't want to put in the effort.

Marly: "You're from up north?"
Jack: "Mmmmm. They tell me, everybody on this coast is from somewhere else."
Marly: "Not me. Six generations on this sandpile. At least."
Jack: "That's impressive."
Marly: "You go back that far your people were either planters, slaves or fugitives."
Jack: "And yours were?"
Marly: "I don't know what they were running from but this is where they stopped."
Jack: "I'm from Newport. Rhode Island."
Marly: "With the yachts and the big estates?"
Jack: "My dad took care of the lawns."

On that line, Hutton effuses pride and Falco effuses satisfaction at his pride.


Jack: "So you never left the island?"
Marly: "Sure, I left. You're looking at a former Weeki Watchi Girl."
Jack: "A what?
Marly: "Over near Homosassa there's this show, been running since the late forties."
Jack: "You acted?"
Marly: "Performed. You do it underwater. Here, let's have a contest."

And here, Sayles does show rather than tell, in a sense, by having Marly scoot forward in her chair and, again without asking permission, put her hand to Jack's nose to force him to hold his breath as a demonstration of what a Weeki Watchi Girl has to do.


Then she takes his hand and puts it on her nose, forcing him to force her to hold her breath.


In unspoken terms, a hold-your-breath contest emerges, one which Jack quickly loses.


Jack: "You win."
Marly: "I could hold it twice as long even I hadn't been drinking."
Jack: "I'm impressed."
Marly: "The important thing is to keep that smile on your face."

And though you don't know it at the time, that line is foreshadowing the movie's most affecting moment a little bit later, when Marly, drunker than she is now, on a golf course with Jack undercover of night, lays back in the grass and repeats what she just said, "the important thing is to keep that smile on your face", with the fatalistic augmentation of "even if you're drowning", a heartbreaking summation of her whole life.

Jack: "How long did you work there?"
Marly: "Three years. And then I met my ex. He had this band. Skeeter Meter."
Jack: "Like a rock band?"
Marly: "They were big around Tampa. You ever heard The Allman Brothers? Lynyrd Skynyrd? Then you've heard Skeeter Meter. He was Greek. And good looking. His daddy was a sponge diver before all the sponges died out."
Jack: "What did they die of?"

As he asks this, she picks up her shot.


Marly: "Boredom. Laying under some rocks, soaking up whatever rolls over you. It's almost as bad as Delrona Beach."
Jack: "There's a lot of changes happening."


Jack: "Things might pick up." And as he says this, she tosses back the shot.


Marly: "Don't hold your breath."

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