Suncoast (2024)

Suncoast Review


Can there be anything more Sundance-y than a teary coming-of-age movie? This is by no means a knock towards the genre. Films that swim in such familiar waters can be wonderfully fulfilling, like Megan Park’s youthful “My Old Ass” showed with nuance at this year’s Sundance. In comparison, writer-director Laura Chinn’s US Dramatic Competition entry “Suncoast” joins a more forgettable crop of teen movies, lacking plausible character development and sufficient depth to make its themes resonate.

In Chinn’s semi-autobiographical yarn, we follow teenage Doris (a loveable Nico Parker, of “The Last of Us”) as she navigates a tricky life at home with her dying brother Max (Cree Kawa) and headstrong mother Kristine (Laura Linney, with a severely underwritten part), a woman of frequent emotional outbursts. Doris is sensible, affable and endearingly reluctant as a teen so much so that she seems completely unaware of her inside-and-out beautiful qualities, perhaps because she has always lived under the shadow of her brother’s illness. When Max’s situation becomes a waiting game, the family moves him to a hospice where Kristine starts spending her nights. And this is when Doris meets Woody Harrelson’s activist Paul Warren amid the early-aughts’ landmark right-to-die court case of Terri Schiavo, who’s at the same hospital in a vegetative state where Kristine has moved Max.

Paul and Doris build a gradual, unlikely friendship, whose rhythms don’t land with authentic emotions in Chinn’s script, which lacks the depth and dimension that it requires. But Chinn is more successful elsewhere in depicting Doris’ process of coming out of her shell. Taking advantage of her mother’s frequent absences at night, she starts inviting her brand-new crew of friends over for parties and sleepovers. At first, her new friends—played by Ella Anderson, Daniella Taylor, Amarr and Ariel Martin don’t even seem aware of Doris’ existence, an unlikely scenario given how noticeably genial she is. But her social circle grows once her home becomes her school’s party hub. Endearingly, Chinn subverts our expectations about this crew that we suspect are using Doris at first and prove that teens rise up to the occasion when duty calls. In that, Doris’ new clan of friends lend her a helping hand when she needs them the most.

But the film struggles to find its emotional core on the whole, ping-ponging amid the hospice, Doris’ new circle, Kristine’s desperation and the relationship between Paul and Doris. That last thread especially feels frustrating, with Paul too conveniently drifting in and out of the story like a ghost whenever Doris craves his outside voice of reason. You could almost watch an entire movie of its own about this friendship, or about everything else Doris is dealing with. But when piled on top of each other, Chinn only scratches the surface of the story, which ultimately falls short of its potential.

More substantial writing for Kristine throughout “Suncoast” would have been good too. A loving mother who cares greatly but is overwhelmed by an impossible situation, we don’t get many quiet moments from her which doesn’t balance with her understandable anger. Also, the film never acknowledges the fact that she is a white mother of a black girl. In one of the early scenes of “Suncoast,” Doris protests when her mother asks her to ride at the back of the truck, pointing out to her natural hair as a reason. Objecting this, Kristine says “Your hair? Really?” It’s a scene that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

However, Chinn does have Doris slowly but surely start putting herself first seeing herself as more than just Max’s sister and there is merit in that. She goes to prom on what could be Max’s last night alive and accepts like an adult the consequences of being absent for him then. After this point Suncoast resolves into a neat little reconciliation note, but it can’t help feeling like you’ve watched a slightly watered-down film in the end; yearning for something beyond Disney outlooks.

Watch Suncoast For Free On Gomovies.

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