Oh, February, why are you always filled with such rotten movies? Is it because the better-quality releases are scheduled for the last quarter of the year in time to qualify for awards consideration, leaving the lower-quality films to scrounge for space in the first quarter? Whatever the reason, “Suncoast” is a perfect example of a project that was likely made with high expectations, but failed to meet them on any level.
It is the story of a Florida teen, Doris (Nico Parker), a loner who just wants to be accepted by her classmates and be shown some affection by her mother, Kristine (Laura Linney). But Mom is overbearing and obsessed with Doris’ brother, Max (Cree Kawa), who is restricted to a wheelchair because he’s suffering from brain cancer, can’t speak or see, and is terminal. Kristine ignores Doris, not caring one whit about any aspect of her life while trying to spend every last moment she can with Max.
Writer/director Laura Chinn based the “Suncoast” story on her own childhood experiences, but adds so much extra melodrama that the movie crumbles under its own weight. It’s not bad enough Max eventually is moved into a hospice, it has to be the same one in which Terri Schiavo spent her last days in 2005. If you don’t remember that story, I’ll let you go look it up on Wikipedia because I wasted way too much time discussing it on my radio show as it dominated the news cycle for days on end.
With Schiavo inside (but never shown), there are religious nutjobs protesting outside the hospice every day, including Paul (Woody Harrelson), who’s one of the quietest activists I’ve ever seen. He becomes friends with Doris and they go for a couple of meals and a driving lesson. It’s not as creepy as it sounds, but it doesn’t add anything to the storyline, either. Harrelson essentially sleep-walks through the part because he’s given so little to do. His part should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Meanwhile, at school, Doris is finally accepted by some of the cool kids when she allows them to throw a party at her house while Kristine is sleeping on the floor next to Max in the hospice. Every one of the teen characters looks and acts like they’re from a cheap knockoff version of “Mean Girls,” with dialogue that sounds like what an adult thinks teenagers would say but never have.
One of the reasons I was so disappointed by “Suncoast” is that whenever I have the opportunity to watch Laura Linney work, I take it, knowing she’ll be great. She’s proven herself in “Ozark,” “The Truman Show,” “Love Actually,” the Broadway play “Summer, 1976” (which I reviewed last year), and her masterful work as John Adams’ wife Abigail opposite Paul Giamatti in the HBO mini-series about our second president.
But somehow, Chinn wrote Kristine as such an unpleasant person even Linney can’t redeem her. The way she treats Doris is downright cruel, lacking any empathy for her daughter whatsoever. As for Parker, she may be a good, young actress, but she’s stuck in a poorly-written role that reeks of desperation, even in the few mildly tender moments she’s allowed.
Because it lives up to its placement among Failed February Films, I give “Suncoast” a rating of 2 out of 10. Now streaming on Hulu.