Suncoast (Sundance) Review

Suncoast trailer: Laura Linney, Nico Parker, and Woody Harrelson find silver linings in death in Laura Chinn’s new drama
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Laura Linney, Woody Harrelson and Nico Parker star is this gentle, charming coming-of-age dramedy, which hits Hulu in February.

Suncoast (Sundance) Review 3

PLOT: In 2005, a teenager, Doris (Nico Parker), helps her mother (Laura Linney) care for her dying brother at the same hospice where Terri Schiavo is being treated. With the hospital at the centre of neverending right-to-life protests, Doris sparks an unlikely friendship with one of the protestors (Woody Harrelson). 

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REVIEW: Suncoast was a late Sundance surprise for me. I wasn’t expecting much from the film, and I entertained the idea of waiting for it to hit Hulu (it has a Feb 9 release date). Still, I found myself unexpectedly charmed by this Searchlight release, which is the kind of crowdpleaser the festival audience loves, with the theatre I saw this in packed with sobbing attendees by the time the credits rolled. 

Suncoast was a refreshing change of pace from some of the heavier fare I’ve been watching here, with it refreshingly optimistic and upbeat, even if it deals with grim subject matter. Based on writer-director Laura Chinn’s experience with having a brother in the same end-of-life facility as Terri Schiavo, the film attempts to strike a balance between those who thought she should live as opposed to those who thought she should be let go. No one is portrayed as “right,” with compelling arguments for both perspectives. 

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Yet, the film isn’t about Shiavo; it is more about Doris’s life as she copes with being there for her dying brother, who’s been left unresponsive by terminal brain cancer, while also making a life for herself at her new high school. She also has to deal with her pre-occupied mother, played by Laura Linney, in a role that sometimes dares to be unsympathetic. In a rough moment, she uses her son’s illness to horribly manipulate her daughter, although the film never judges her too harshly.

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Suncoast (Sundance) Review 4

Indeed, that’s what makes Suncoast so good. It’s optimistic in that virtually everyone in the film is shown to be good essentially. Doris has moments of selfishness, as she uses the fact that her family home is unoccupied to get in the good graces of a popular clique at school, but she’s a good kid. In a more quintessential teen drama, the teens would be portrayed as selfish, but for the most part, they come off relatively well and genuine in their affection for the likable Doris. Even tiny roles, such as Doris’s Christian ethics teacher (played by Matt Walsh), are non-stereotypical.

The best example, though, is Woody Harrelson’s character. So many films have conditioned us to assume this older man has an unseemly side. Still, he comes across as a benign pseudo-father figure who genuinely desires to help this girl navigate a painful time in her life. Harrelson is excellent as usual, breaking your heart with the depths of his grief for his late wife but also coming across as a kind, quirky friend for someone who needs it.

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Of everyone, though, young Nico Parker stands out. Readers may remember her for playing Joel’s doomed daughter in the first episode of The Last of Us, and she’s got a lot of presence. The spitting image of her mother, Thandiwe Newton, Parker seems like a star in the making, and this is an excellent role for her. 

Through it all, Chinn keeps the film rolling along at a tight pace (including fun needle drops from the era), likely leading to significant opportunities for her going forward. It’s cut from the same cloth as other Searchlight Sundance faves like Little Miss Sunshine and The Way, Way Back. It’s too bad the studio is making it a Hulu exclusive, as it could have become a word-of-mouth hit. I think a lot of us miss seeing movies like this in theaters. 

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