Nico Parker with her friends in Sundance Film Festival's Suncoast | Agents of Fandom

Sundance 2024: ‘Suncoast’ Review – A Shallow Coming-of-Age Story That Lacks Bite

Laura Chinn’s story is heartwarming yet fails to truly shine.

The latest in a long line of Sundance coming-of-age stories emanates from writer/director Laura Chinn. Her first feature film, Suncoast, follows teenager Doris — played by the incredible Nico Parker in a performance that won the film the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance — as she maneuvers her way through her thorny life with her terminally ill brother Max (Cree Kawa) and overbearing mother Kristine (Laura Linney).

Doris is quiet and reserved — not noticed by the students sitting right next to her at school until she offers her home up for parties — with endearing personality traits. Her mother, no stranger to frequent emotional eruptions, lacks an engaging style of love and parenting. In a severely underwritten role, one that Linney squeezes every ounce of emotion out of to great effect, Kristine is frazzled more times than not. Her constant battle with how she should traverse grieving in real-time is a great setup for a character arc that is sadly left primarily uncharted.

‘Suncoast’ Wants To Get Real but Refuses To

Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson, left) reaches his hand out for a handshake as he meets meets Kristine (right) in a restaurant in Suncoast I Agents of Fandom
Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson) extends a gracious meeting to a fiery, stressed-out Kristine in Suncoast. Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures.

Once Doris’ brother Max is moved to a hospice center — the very same one in which Terri Schiavo, participant of the early-2000s landmark right-to-die court case is living — Kristine begins to be even more removed from Doris’ life, sleeping most nights next to Max’s bed. It’s outside of this center where Doris meets activist Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson) and begins to grow a fruitful friendship with him.

In a script that ultimately refuses to get its hands dirty with the many heavy topics at play, namely that of using ethics as an undercurrent for all of the seemingly sticky situations Doris and others find themselves in, the soulful exploration of said topics is reduced to one-dimensional interactions. The movie leaves a great thirst for a true examination of how a teenager, let alone society, should approach such difficult instances.

Paul too often acts as the narrative angel of the film, only appearing when Doris needs an outside voice to talk to about her problems. Inviting her friends — played by Ella Anderson, Ariel Martin, and Daniella Taylor — to her house for hurricane parties and truth-or-dare Jenga is one of those problems. The near singular benefit to Paul’s appearances is that it offers a narrative juxtaposition to that of Kristine in someone who understands Doris’ desire to be a normal teen. He even teaches her how to drive in a lightly cute montage.

Harrelson’s Paul weaves in and out of the story making the overall events feel disjointed. Combined with the lack of depth of Kristine, the movie only shines when Nico Parker is allowed to be the successful tearjerker that she so well is. Suncoast beckons to be greater than the sum of its shallow parts, offering up a compelling and thoughtful coming-of-age story at its center.

Doris’ discovery of the difficulties of growing up mixed with heartwarming moments — one where her friends show great sympathy for her situation instead of following the trite narrative of being self-centered and using Doris just for parties — are successful in bursts. Parker brings a centered emotionality to Chinn’s script and direction, completely owning each scene she’s in.

The film finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place, much like its narrative structures it to be in terms of ethics and life, amounting to nothing more than an ordinary Hulu release that will assuredly quickly come and go.

Suncoast releases on Hulu on February 9, 2024. Follow the Agents of Fandom socials for the latest entertainment news and film festival reviews.

'Suncoast' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review

'Suncoast' Sundance Film Festival 2024 Review
3 5 0 1
3.0 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • A conventional, feel-good coming-of-age story sure to make you cry.
  • Nico Parker delivers an emotionally inspiring performance.

The Bad

  • Superficial script that refuse to address any meaning behind it's narrative.
  • Shallow characters that make the film feel disjointed.
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