Suncoast Is a Quirky With Amazing Leads Despite Shallow Moments [Sundance]

Suncoast still of Doris (Nico Parker) sitting with her friends on some steps.

Suncoast, playing at the Sundance Film Festival, is overly dramatic at times and too flat at others, but with two leads turning out strong performances, it’s easy to overlook. Set in the late 90s or early aughts, the film follows a mother, daughter, and brother’s relationship as they prepare to move the brother to a hospice amidst a national protest. A semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age tale, Suncoast uses quirky music, a quirky man, and awkward relationships to emphasize Doris’ (Nico Parker) struggle to come to terms with her brother’s impending death. 

Written and directed by Laura Chinn, it focuses on Doris, her mother Kristine (Laura Linney), and her brother, who can no longer communicate as he’s dying from brain cancer, Max (Cree Kawa). Doris does not get along with her mother because Doris has to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for caring for her brother rather than being a kid. Neither Doris nor Kristine genuinely understand what the other goes throughSuncoast is entertaining but feels too shallow for the subject matter. 

Suncoast Peripherals Speak to Doris’ Struggle

Suncoast photo of director Laura Chinn.
Laura Chinn, director of Suncoast, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Suncoast doesn’t take an ethical stand. Instead, it asserts, like Doris (Nico Parker), that ethics in this situation change. What’s right for one person experiencing the tragic decision to end a loved one’s life is not a one-size-fits-all. Doris talks about it in class but doesn’t realize her words fit her relationship with her brother. She believes she will not miss caring for her brother, but it’s impossible to be sure until you’re in it. 

Paul (Woody Harrelson), a stranger visiting Suncoast protesting with others about Terry Schiavo, quickly befriends her. Their relationship is adorable; however, it’s also a little creepy when older men hang out with teenage girls. It’s even more disturbing that Doris’ mother does not notice or care. Fortunately, Paul’s character exists to become Doris’ first friend and to drop gems based on his personal experience and loss. 

Kids Should Not Shoulder Responsibility

Alas, a kid should not have to care for a sick sibling or parent in a perfect world. But in a society that eyes any assistance to struggling people as a “handout” while saving companies with a “bailout,” it’s impossible for a single parent to work financially to provide all the care. Still, Kristine’s attitude toward her daughter and son differ. Although Doris has no friends and doesn’t go out, Kristine makes her out to be selfish. It’s obvious when Kristine answers “no” when someone asks her if she has other children besides Max. She corrects, but that Freudian slip is telling. 

Lead Performances Are Wonderful, But Feels Like An After-School Special

Suncoast still of Doris (Nico Parker) sitting with her friends on some steps.
A still from Suncoast by Laura Chinn, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Nico Parker and Laura Linney give magnificent performances. Their relationship is contentious and manipulative, especially on the mother’s part, and both actresses are captivating and pull it off. The emotional range they deliver stands out, especially Nico Parker’s performance. Watching might bring a tear or two. Seeing Nico Parker after her fantastic but brief role on The Last of Us is terrific. Woody Harrelson always gives a good performance. Even if a film is awful, his acting is not. Cree Kawa is outstanding, too, as it’s not easy to be still.

Suncoast is a sweet, sad story that teaches a lesson about loss and connecting with those we love before they go. At times, it feels dramatized, but the performances keep interest, and it’s hard not to cry at certain parts. Nico Parker does a beautiful job, even if the film sometimes feels like an after-school special. Thanks to Parker, Linney, and Harrelson, Suncoast delivers an entertaining, quirky movie with some touching moments. 

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