Suncoast Review: Laura Chinn Directs Uneven Teenage Cancer Drama

Review: Writer and director Laura Chinn crafts a few moments of emotional heft, but there isn’t enough tonal consistency to pull all the themes of Suncoast together. At times, it’s a rather powerful mother-daughter cancer drama, but it’s constantly followed up by tacky teenage dialogue or unfunny comedic writing. Woody Harrelson stars in an overly volatile movie for Hulu.

nico parker in suncoast film
Nico Parker in Suncoast (2024)

Woody Harrelson has had a tough stretch of movies in the 2020s. From Champions to The Man from Toronto to, now, Suncoast have all been underwhelming plays at their own respective genres, and each have felt more like mediocre streaming service products than films meant to have staying power in an time period filled to the brim with content. It’s a shame, because the once-reliable comedy actor has now fumbled his way into an era in his career that so many greats fall into where their material just isn’t as necessary as it once was.

And focusing in on Suncoast – it feels like a regurgitated and sanitized rehashing of a Kelly Fremon Craig movie (most notably The Edge of Seventeen, a film that Harrelson starred in and had a similar role to as his in Suncoast). But it’s hard to draw conclusions to why Harrelson felt drawn to this film in the first place. He doesn’t play a central part in the main narrative, and instead serves as an offshoot to break tension with a few sight gags and laughs. His performance provides brevity and earnestness to a story that wallows in cheap highschooler shenanigans and lackluster cancer drama elements.

This big melting plot of ideas and tones don’t ultimately work in Suncoast, and the shifts in character dynamics and relationships just feel inauthentic after a while. Doris (Nico Parker) is a teenager struggling to balance her social life while caring for her comatose brother on the verge of passing away. Her mother Kristine (Laura Linney) doesn’t make life easier on her in any sense, often placing unrealistic expectations on her daughter that cause the two to drift apart many times throughout. Linney captures the volatility of a single parent trying to keep her family together, although she’s underserved by a dreadful character arc swapping between someone to root for and someone to momentarily hate often.

In turn, Doris strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man also spending much of his time at their local hospice center – only the man, Paul (Woody Harrelson), is there protesting a landmark medical case along with hundreds of others, making it difficult for Doris to regularly see her brother. The story is convoluted by nature, and much of the runtime only muddies it down with breezy set pieces of high school parties and adolescent gossip.

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It’s a two hander in the same way Zach Braff’s A Good Person was from last year. Only A Good Person had a much more consistent melodramatic tone and a significantly better cast. But both that movie and Suncoast struggle to alleviate the hyper emotional material into a movie that’s enjoyable to watch. Suncoast tries to have its cake and eat it too by being both a raunchy teen comedy and a deeply perplexing drama about letting a loved one go.

The performances are still good to a point. As mentioned earlier, Laura Linney runs the gamut of emotions, from a distraught mother grieving over the circumstances of her family, to even a few sinister attempts to keep control over the people in her life. Woody Harrelson is still his endearing self, even if the material isn’t nearly solid enough for his services. Nico Parker struggles at times to keep up with the strains of emotions she’s supposed to have, often feeling flat or inconvenienced by the world around her. She’s in tune with the final 30 minutes of the movie, but it’s in limbo up to that point.

Director Laura Chinn pulls together a few moments of emotional heft, but there isn’t enough consistency to pull all the themes of Suncoast together. At times, it’s a rather powerful mother-daughter drama, but it’s constantly followed up by tacky teenage dialogue or unfunny comedic writing. Some will surely find catharsis with Suncoast for its depictions of loved ones living in hospice care, but without that personal connection, it’s hard to sit through.

Rating

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Watch Suncoast on Hulu

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Suncoast Cast and Credits

suncoast movie 2024

Cast

Nico Parker as Doris

Laura Linney as Kristine

Woody Harrelson as Paul

Crew

Director: Laura Chinn

Writer: Laura Chinn

Cinematography: Bruce Francis Cole

Editor: Sara Shaw

Composer: Este Haim, Christopher Stracey

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