Writer and director John Sayles returns with another multi-layered look at an American community, subtly exploring how race, class, economics, and both national and regional history come together to shape people's lives. Plantation Island is a community on the coast of Florida; the island was once a notorious hotbed of segregationists, with most of the African-American population centered in the neighborhood of Lincoln Beach, while Delrona Beach is primarily home to white residents. Marly Temple (Edie Falco) is the sixth generation of her family to live in Delrona Beach, where she helps run a motel and cafe owned by her elderly and ill-tempered father (Ralph Waite) and drama instructor mother (Jane Alexander). Marly's former husband, Steve (Richard Edson), is a scruffy ne'er do well who's a sucker for get-rich-quick scams, while her current boyfriend, Scotty (Marc Blucas), is struggling to make something of himself as a golf pro. Meanwhile, Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) is an actress who is returning to Lincoln Beach for the first time since she was a teenager, hoping to introduce her new husband, Reggie (James McDaniel), to her mother, Eunice Stokes (Mary Alice). Desiree was the center of a minor local scandal when she became pregnant as a teenager and moved away. Eunice has never quite forgiven her, while Flash (Tom Wright), Desiree's high school boyfriend and the man responsible, hasn't seen her since. Eunice is looking after Terrell (Alex Lewis), a troubled youth recently found guilty of arson, and Desiree and Reggie soon find themselves bonding with the misguided youth. In time, Delrona Beach and Lincoln Beach are brought together by a common concern; Greg (Perry Lang) and Lester (Miguel Ferrer) are representatives from a nearby resort community looking to expand, with Plantation Island looking like their most likely target. As homeowners debate whether to sell or stay put, local government officials and the town's business community argue the merits and faults of the resort's expansion into Plantation Island. Meanwhile, Marly becomes romantically involved with Jack (Timothy Hutton), a landscape architect affiliated with the developers who seems to believe his work is doing more harm than good. Sunshine State also features Mary Steenburgen, Alan King, and Bill Cobbs.
by Mark Deming synopsis