Lost in the Reel’s video review for “Suncoast”

Everyone loves a good coming-of-age film film, right? Unfortunately, good ones are few and far between.  The genre (especially nowadays) usually exists in a place of tropes and clichés, hinging on cringey writing that feels like it’s coming straight from an adult stuck in the past with an over-reliance on nostalgia. 

And you could say all of those things about Laura Chinn’s debut film Suncoast and I wouldn’t blame you.  Because it does have some uncomfortable bits of teen dialogue that made me writhe in my seat.  The movie also plays around with many of the coming-of-age tropes that are so well-worn, including a climax that happens at *you guessed it* the senior prom!  It also takes place in the early 2000’s, trying to satisfy that nostalgia itch, yet it fails to really capture that time period in a satisfying way.  It really could have taken place in present day and no one would have known the difference.

But Suncoast is luckily able to transcend all of those issues that plague and usually ruin a film like this.  How is it able to do that?  There are a couple of reasons. 


Suncoast is inspired by writer/director Laura Chinn’s life experience from the early 2000s.  It follows a teenager living with her strong-willed mother, who must take her brother to live at a hospice facility to finish out his last days. There, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist, amidst protests surrounding one of the most landmark medical cases of all time.


The first reason Suncoast succeeds is because you can feel how personal this movie is to writer/director Chinn… Straight down to the dedication to her brother at the end.  There’s a palpable realness and authenticity to Suncoast because it is autobiographical.  Lines of dialogue feel like they could have been ripped right from Chinn’s own experiences.  There’s a scene when Woody Harrelson explains to our lead Doris that she is not going to have the same high school experience as most of her peers… because she’s not a normal kid.  She’s not a normal kid, because while they are sitting and worrying about their next grade or what boy they have a crush on, she’s worrying about how long she has left until her brother dies.  Scenes like this, of honest contemplation of growing up in a situation like this, make Suncoast truly special.  


The second reason this movie works so well is because of the outstanding cast.  Laura Linney is exceptional in the role of Doris’ strict, stubborn and overbearing mother.  She is insufferable at first, but never once did I not feel compassion for her.  I appreciate that the film gave Linney so much time to create a moving, powerful arc for this character, because that was integral in making Suncoast have such an impact.  Woody Harrelson is wonderful as always as an activist who just lost his wife, though I wish he had way more screen time. 

The true star of the show however, is Nico Parker, who blew me away in The Last of Us last year and continued to do so in this film.  She is in nearly every second of Suncoast and Parker is nothing short of transfixing. Everything about Doris feels relatable, even when she is so distant and closed-off at the beginning.  Seeing her blossom into an adult, making mistakes and taking big swings, coming into her own and becoming a strong woman… every moment rings so true with this performance.  I cannot wait to see what this young actress does next.


And finally, Suncoast is a movie that has a lot on its mind, but never tells you what to think.  A lot of critics have had a problem with this and how it doesn’t really ever take a political stance… but I believe that’s what makes it even more poignant.  The film takes place at the same hospice center in which Terry Schiavo resided, which is based on a real landmark case that divided the nation.  Schiavo was in a vegetative state and her husband wanted to take her off of life support, while her parents wanted to keep her alive.    

Centering this conflict around what’s going on with Doris’ brother, who is very much in the same predicament, was such a smart decision when penning this screenplay.  What’s even more effective is that Chinn brings up these questions of ethics without force-feeding us what we should believe… allowing the audience to make up the decision for themselves, what they would do in a situation like this. 


Suncoast is definitely not perfect, but it is a special film.  It’s one that tugged on my heart strings, allowed me to reminisce about my teen years, all the while reminding me how hard of a road it was becoming an adult.  Any person who dealt with turmoil and death at a young age will surely connect to this movie in a profound way.  Yet, our writer/director never forgets when to allow levity and entertainment to take center stage, as well.  Do yourself a favor and make sure to catch Suncoast on Hulu, whenever you might be feeling a good laugh or cry.  

Suncoast Is Streaming Now on Hulu.

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