Laura Chinn’s “Suncoast” feels like it comes from a very deep and personal place. It’s a movie about loss, and grief, and trying to find a way to live again when a big piece of you has been taken out of your life. Suffice to say “Suncoast” is one of the first great films of 2024 and an excellent drama I’d place right alongside gems like “Ladybird” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Chinn manages to evoke so many core emotions about coming to terms with death and how tough it can be to move and move forward after happiness has disappeared. How do you begin? Where do you begin? And most of all, when can you begin?
Set in the early aughts, Doris is a girl that has spent her life caring for her ailing brother Max who is dying from brain cancer. Forced to register him to the hospice facility Suncoast, Doris is forced to come to grips with her brother’s death and strikes up a friendship with a middle-aged activist, all the while enduring her overbearing, demanding mother Kristine.
After shining in “The Last of Us,” star Nico Parker carries what might have otherwise been a trite film with someone else starring in it. The movie always threatens to sink in to sentimental nonsense, but director and writer Chinn knows how to balance out the narrative perfectly. Parker’s turn as young Doris is a three pronged coming of age tale where she has to face the reality of her overbearing mother, her struggle with faith after meeting widower Paul, and her attempts to hold on to her youth and find some semblance of joy when she befriends a group of kids at her private school. Doris is a girl that has spent so much of her time caring for her ailing brother and bending to her mother’s will that she lacks even the fundamentals of ideas like socializing and rebelling.
Although Doris is at risk of falling by the wayside, Chinn seemingly has a lot of faith in humanity and love, depicting Doris’ experiences with her new group of friends as a positive experience that gives her a peek at a life she never knew could exist. Chinn’s primary focus is the impending death of Doris’ brother as his stay at the hospice Suncoast signals the end of not just his life, but of a chapter in Doris’ life. And what’s scary is not just that she’s losing her brother, but that she has no idea where to go once he’s passed on. Laura Linney is fantastic as Doris’ mother Kristine; she’s a demanding and shrill persona whose grief over the inevitability of her son’s death makes her almost impossible to empathize with.
Her seeming disregard for Doris’ feelings and wants makes her a hard person to relate to, but Chinn is successful in helping us to identify with her personal dilemma. Woody Harrelson sadly doesn’t have much of a character as he’s mainly a spiritual guide for Doris. While she does learn from him on how not to continue life after death, he’s unfortunately fairly ineffective to the entire narrative. Nevertheless, “SunCoast” is a compelling and absolutely heartbreaking drama, one that successfully puts Nico Parker’s keen acting talents on full display, nepo baby or not. It’s also one of the best films of the year so far.