'Suncoast' review: Just another mediocre coming-of-age story
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu
Riddled with plenty of angst and teenage shenanigans, the dramedy “Suncoast” tackles everything from a tense mother-daughter relationship, death, to the desperate need to fit in. Under the right circumstances, and with the steady hand of a filmmaker who understands their vision, the cliché coming-of-age story can resonate beyond its premise. In the case of “Suncoast,” which undoubtedly has its heart in the place, it never elevates beyond a manipulative and soap operatic presentation wherein the characters never connect on the screen. Despite a trio of commendable performances, Laura Chinn’s directorial debut lacks an extra layer of warmth to push it into the conversation of memorable teenager-driven movies.
The movie follows high schooler Doris (Nico Parker) who struggles to make friends and has spent most of her life being a caregiver for her brother, Max (Cree Kawa) who has brain cancer and can no longer see or hear. The movie rarely stops to offer insight into the mental state of how that might affect a young mind and instead bakes it into a constant tug-of-war between Doris and her overbearing mother, Kristine (Laura Linney – trying her best) who reluctantly checks her son into the Suncoast hospice facility where everyone is protesting the controversial Terri Schiavo case.
That includes religious widower Paul (Woody Harrelson) who believes all life is sacred and strikes up an odd courtship with Doris. Here, the movie tries pigeonholing the father figure Doris never had into one giant caricature: he takes her to a baseball game and offers driving lessons (what a guy!) and yet, by this point, “Suncoast” is already juggling too many items to make this bond seem even remotely plausible. Instead, the main crux of the film, aside from the right to choose what happens with your body, is the daughter-mother conflict that sees Kristine become the most unlikable person on planet earth.
Giving leash to someone who is watching their son die in a vegetative state is certainly reasonable, but the way in which Kristine communicates and manipulates her daughter is quite striking. There are several harsh and cruel comments that really undermine the nature of the story and what it’s yearning for. Rather than stopping to help Doris process her feelings and comprehend what’s happening to her brother, “Suncoast” gives too much airtime to Kristine’s temper tantrums, including a sequence where she belittles a hospice nurse because she’s “too young.”
Unfortunately, the social group Doris finds herself entangled with also doesn’t leave much of an impression either. It feels undeveloped and the various journeys into teenage debauchery the movie displays (getting fake IDs, naked Jenga, throwing hurricane parties, and half-baked crushes) is never genuine. You never sense these are Doris’ friends, rather, they are using her for easy access to an unsupervised house (because Kristine spends most nights at the hospice center) where they can partake in the stuff teenagers always do in unsupervised settings.
Then there’s the politics, which aren’t really debated or presented with facts so much as they just exist in the background while things chug along. This particular storyline doesn’t foster a real discussion on the perimeters of voluntary euthanasia despite the fact Doris attends a Catholic school. It’s these strange plot developments (or lack thereof) that stifle’s the message “Suncoast” is trying to send. You can see where Chinn was trying to steer this story, but her vision and connection to the material (and some solid performances) can’t save this film from being just another unfulfilling coming-of-age drama.
SUNCOAST streams on Hulu Friday, February 9th