I Searchlight Pictures I February 9, 2024 I
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Linney, Ella Anderson
Directed By: Laura Chinn
A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 3.5 out of 5
Suncoast is a beautiful yet heartbreaking coming of age story that will move you to tears thanks to writer and director Laura Chinn bringing her own teenage experience to the story and the excellent performances of Nico Parker, Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney.
Films about cancer and death are never easy to watch, especially when they are about children dying from cancer. The effect this has on a family is devastating, and that is exactly what writer and director Laura Chinn captures in her feature film debut that is based on her own teenage years with her brother. The film is infused with an honesty that cannot be captured on film or in writing by someone who has not lived a similar experience, that makes for a narratively rich story for Chinn and her cast to work with. With veterans like Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney, who can do no wrong no matter what role they are cast in, it comes as no surprise that Suncoast greatly exceeds expectations with an incredibly moving film about love, regret and letting go. But it is the first true leading performance from Nico Parker that makes this film a must watch, that has not only gained her critical acclaim after winning the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year, but showcases her raw talent as an actress.
In a brutally honest screenplay, Chinn captures every emotion that the film’s characters are feeling with an earnest simplicity. Having lived what she is writing about, we get an innate understanding of our main character Doris through Chinn’s writing. From Doris’ desire to be normal like her classmates, to not be by her brother’s side so she can hide from the fact that her brother will die soon and delay acknowledging how she will truly feel when this happens, or her strained relationship with her mother as Doris cannot fully comprehend what her mother is going through, its incredible writing from Chinn that gives young Parker everything she needs to excel in the role of Doris. With years later to look back on the events of her past, Chinn brings a nuanced understanding to Doris’s mother Kristine underneath the craziness and impulsive decisions of the character. While the death scene is no doubt one of the biggest emotional blows of the film, Chinn finds some heart wrenching moments between Kristine and the hospice’s grief counselor, discussing what life looks like after a loved one has passed and how to move forward from such a painful loss, that will truly affect viewers with the vulnerability in these moments. Beyond the brilliant writing, Chinn sets the film against the backdrop of the landmark Terri Schiavo medical case in Florida revolving around sustaining life in a vegetative state without the prospect of recovery, giving a further dimension to the medical situation that Doris and Kristine find themselves in with Max.
Fearlessly leading the film is Parker as Doris, a young girl forced to grow up too soon and face the harsh realities of life. Having cared for her brother for years while her single mother struggled to financially provide for her two children, Parker captures a longiness for normality within Doris and to experience her teenage years just like her wealthy classmates. So when her brother is moved into hospice care, Doris takes advantage of it. You can see Parker convey the weight lifted off Doris’ shoulders as she does not have to care for her brother every minute of the day as she slowly begins to live her rebellious teenage years in a matter of weeks. While doing so, Parker ensures that Doris’ guilt of not being present with her brother is just under the surface of the character, never leaving and resurfacing as her brother gets closer and closer to death. And when the moment does come for Doris to confront her brother’s death, Parker will tear your heart into pieces with an outpouring of devastating emotions that captures the confusion, hurt and unfairness felt by her character. While only known for supporting roles in The Last of Us and Dumbo, it’s a magnificent breakout role from Parker that is bound to have offers for more leading roles rolling in.
When your film has Harrelson and Linney in the two main supporting roles, there is no question in the audience’s mind that they are going to get expert performances. Harrelson once again is perfectly cast as Paul, Doris’ friend and spiritual guide through this challenging time who is outside the hospice protesting the landmark human rights medical case that is unfolding in the background. There is a rough sweetness that Harrelson possesses as a human being that makes him the perfect actor to portray Paul, while the quiet heartbreak of his character’s past and true caring for Doris allows Harrelson to give a truly heartwarming performance. Linney, on the other hand, gives a tremendous performance as Kristine that practically steals the film. With her character struggling with coming to terms that her sweet child is about to leave this world and trying to come to terms with what her life will look like after he passes, Linney is a whirlwind of emotions. Kristine is short with Doris, not out of anger but of hurt for everything she is going through, and while it can be misconstrued as selfish and cold at times, Linney ensures that the love her character feels for her two children informs every decision she makes as an actress. It’s a heartbreaking performance from Linney as Kristine’s world seems to be crumbling around her as she struggles to keep some form of control over it, reminding audiences why they continue to fall in love with Linney over and over again as an actress.
Hitting every emotional note with a heartbreaking honesty, Suncoast is bound to be an overwhelming experience for viewers in Laura Chinn’s semi-autobiographical feature film debut as a writer and director. Not only does the film showcase Chinn as a talented filmmaker that has me eager to see what she chooses as her next project, it’s a terrific acting showcase with beautifully written characters that leap right off the screen. There is no doubt that you are going to need tissues handy as Suncoast is a devastatingly emotional film, but with a wonderful screenplay from writer and director Laura Chinn that fully captures every emotion of the characters she has written, the performances of Nico Parker, Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney dazzle on screen and are reason alone to watch this truly moving film.