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'SUNCOAST' REVIEW

BY BECCA JOHNSON FEBRUARY 21, 2024
Suncoast

Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Laura Chinn, Suncoast is a semi-autobiographical dramedy now streaming on Hulu/Disney+. When Chinn was a teenager herself, her brother was diagnosed with brain cancer; after caring for him for six years at home with her Mother, he entered a Florida hospice called Suncoast in 2005. At this time, Suncoast was also home to Terri Schiavo, who entered a vegetative state in 1990 after a heart attack. The controversy followed eight years later, when her parents and husband entered a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be removed. Chinn was sadly coming of age as her brother's life was ending, and Suncoast is a beautiful yet heart-breaking depiction of growing pains, grief, friendship, loneliness and much, much more.


SYNOPSIS

A teen living with her strong-willed mother must take her brother to a specialized facility. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist at protests surrounding a landmark medical case.



REVIEW

It is not common for a teenager to have to decide whether to skip out on prom, parties and hanging out with their friends to sit by their dying brother's side, but that was unfortunately a reality for Laura Chinn. Played beautifully by Nico Parker (Dumbo), Doris is complex and relatable, a teenager who struggles to balance her love and care for her brother with wanting to be a kid and have a life. Parker gives her best performance to date, showcasing the complexities and emotions of her character with understanding. In the role of Mum Kristine is Laura Linney, who is unsurprisingly fantastic also. Kristine is a force to be reckoned with, who works tirelessly to make enough money for the family of three to survive, and spending every other waking moment at her sons side, even when he's moved into the hospice. At times forgetting she has another child due to how much she cares for her son, Kristine's main arc is to learn to be herself and have fun again despite the heartbreak – Linney captures this wonderfully. In a charming, fluffy and fun role as Paul, an activist who befriends Doris, is Woody Harrelson. Whenever he's on screen, it's hard not to have a great time as he's so charismatic. He's some light relief for the audience as well as young Doris. The performance here are truly fantastic.


Suncoast

Suncoast works so well because of how masterfully it's story balances the themes of coming-of-age and terminal illness. They're two very common plot devices, but it's rare to see them come together, and especially so well. Exploring all the coming-of-age beats we know and love including crushes, prom, school life, friendships, first kisses, strained relationships with your parents and more, it's a really competent addition to that genre and hits the nail on the head. We see Doris become her own person, learn to balance home life with social life, discover what's most important and navigate through her formative age, and it's consistently engaging. Alongside it, we have a formulaic yet strong story of a young boy with a terminal illness, and the grief that surrounds it. It's horrific to see such a young and promising individual go through something so heartbreaking, especially when you know it's based on a true story. It does what it needs to in terms of emotion, and really gets you thinking. Despite being slightly underdeveloped, the discussions surrounding the controversial case of Terri Schiavo adds in an interesting layer of social commentary, and leaves you thinking about what you'd do if a loved one was in this situation.


Suncoast

The movie is definitely a lot of fun when Doris and Paul's relationship is being developed. However, there's just not enough scenes involving the pair, leaving Harrelson severely underutilised. The plot synopsis hints at their bond being the main focus of the storyline, yet this doesn't turn out to be the case. Paul is the person who helps Doris have fun, be a kid and learn important skills like learning to drive, so it's a great shame we don't get more of these moments and it could've worked better if this plot was removed altogether, as it doesn't do enough. Suncoast also could've been all the more memorable if it took a deeper dive into it's themes of death and it's exploration of keeping people alive when they have no quality of life. It comes across as though it's a little afraid to make a standpoint here, instead going for something quite familiar and commonplace.


Suncoast is a strong piece of coming-of-age cinema, and an even stronger exploration of grief, loss and the toll of terminal illness. It's performances are great from a competent cast and it packs the emotional punch it's aiming for. Perhaps tackling too many separate threads, it feels a little tonally inconsistent at times, with many themes and ideas left underdeveloped and unexplored – particularly the most intriguing ones. The film gets lost along the way, but it's still a journey worth taking.


STAR RATING

Rating When Evil Lurks

SUNCOAST IS STREAMING NOW ON DISNEY+ & HULU

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