Suncoast (2024) Film Review from the 47th Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie written and directed by Laura Chinn and starring Laura Linney, Nico Parker, Woody Harrelson, Cree Kawa, Daniella Taylor, Ella Anderson, Amarr, Ariel Martin, Keyla Monterroso Mejia, Pam Dougherty, Andrea Powell, Parker Sack, Andrew Dicostanzo, Elliott Sancrant, Matt Walsh, Barbara Beneville, Orelon Sidney and Brandon Arroyo.
Writer/director Laura Chinn has crafted the first truly moving film I’ve seen this year with Suncoast. This is the type of movie that Sundance is best known for and is in the vein of some of the best films that have come from the festival like Little Miss Sunshine or CODA. Screen veterans Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson top line the cast but it is Nico Parker as the young Doris who is the film’s most valuable player. Parker is sympathetic and believable in her role even when her character doesn’t necessarily make the best choices. Doris is a flawed teenage character who learns a lot through the events that transpire in the heartwarming and touching film that is Suncoast.
When we meet Kristine (Linney), Doris’s mom, we see that Doris doesn’t have it too easy. Kristine is a train wreck of a mother and with good reason: Her son has suffered through cancer which has spread through his body and he is now in hospice, unable to communicate. Doris feels sympathy for her brother but has the desire to make friends and know life outside of her own immediate family. She meets a man named Paul (Harrelson) after having a fight with her mom. Paul tells Doris that he should appreciate her mother and not wish her dead but Doris won’t understand the value of this advice until much later in the picture.
Doris makes some friends at her school when she offers Kristine’s house to her classmates as a gathering place. A couple of parties go on while Kristine stays with her son in hospice at night. Eventually, because of a huge commotion being made at the hospice regarding the life of another patient, Kristine is not allowed to visit her son, whose name is Max, one night. When Kristine comes home, she finds Doris and her classmates with some of their clothes off and Kristine assumes the worst. Doris isn’t really a bad kid, though. She just yearns for acceptance and for a life that has a little less sadness in it.
Kristine is suffering a lot of despair over the scenario regarding the situation Max is in. There is not much time left for him but Kristine fails to realize that she has another child who can be equally as important in her life. In a heartbreaking scene, Kristine tells a trauma counselor (Pam Dougherty) that she doesn’t have any kids other than Max. Kristine is so caught up in the situation, she forgets about her other child, the one who is going to be there long after Max dies.
The scenes between Harrelson and Parker are super entertaining to watch. When Doris doesn’t have enough money for a shake, Paul pays for one and for her meal. Paul is a good guy and has an attentive ear to lend Doris if she chooses to talk to him about what’s bothering her. Harrelson and Parker are terrific in the scenes they have together and add some tender moments to a film which ultimately becomes very deeply moving to watch.
Linney delivers a heartfelt performance. The audience may not like her at first but by the time the film’s conclusion rolls around, viewers will respect her for the difficult situation Kristine has had to try to overcome. It’s a hard hit for a mother to lose her child and Linney expertly captures the difficulties her character faces as well as all her turmoil.
This is Nico Parker’s movie from the very first moments. Parker makes Doris shy, timid, insecure and absolutely relatable. Doris comes a long way as a character as she realizes the power and importance of family in her life. She still has her new friends but learning to balance family with her social life becomes pivotal to her character understanding the realities of life–the good ones and the bad ones. Parker is very charming as Doris and you’ll enjoy her screen presence and characterization from beginning to end.
There are some notable supporting turns. Most memorable is Ella Anderson as one of Doris’s bubbly friends who says pretty much anything that’s on her mind. A hilarious moment has Anderson’s character telling Doris something pretty raunchy just as Doris is being asked to the prom by a crush (Amarr). Another notable turn is that of Ariel Martin as another of Doris’s friends, one who seems to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Suncoast is an amazing picture. It opens one’s eyes to the beauty of life as well as the situations that make life very difficult to bear at times. At the same time, there’s a lot of joy and hope to be found in the movie’s story line. Parker, Linney and Harrelson are all in top form and make this one of the most moving and enjoyable films to come out of Sundance over the past few years. This is a tear-jerker but it also has a lot of funny scenes amidst all the heartbreak and the film certainly puts Laura Chinn on the map as a director to watch.
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