Life would be so much easier if all the cool kids were as nice as they are in this film.
What it's about
Based on writer-director Laura Chinn’s life, Suncoast tells the story of a teen girl navigating high school under the shadow of her terminally ill brother and their perennially distraught mother.
In Suncoast, writer-director Laura Chinn takes the personal tragedy of losing her brother to cancer and weaves it into something meaningful. The film is a sensitive meditation on death and grief, but it isn’t all grim. It’s also a coming-of-age story, one that focuses on Doris (Nico Parker), a version of Chinn’s younger self aching for normal teen experiences. The film is at its best when it zeroes in on Doris’ interiority and examines the duality of having to deal with so much death while still wanting to live a vibrant life. The surprising friendship that blooms between her and the popular kids as she chases after this life is one of the best depictions of authentic teen dynamics in recent memory. But the film is at its weakest when it tries to be something it’s not—that is, your usual tear-jerker indie fare that’s rife with lessons from a magical stranger (in this case played genially, but unnecessarily, by Woody Harrelson) and grievances from a grief-stricken mother (played powerfully by Laura Linney). To be sure, Harrelson and Linney (especially) deliver top-notch performances, but they feel shoehorned in an otherwise pitch-perfect film about a girl finding her place in the real world.
What stands out
The way Chinn successfully captures the way teens interact with each other and how she subverts expectations by making the “cool” kids actually cool, as in nice and empathetic and unavoidably childish, is an inspired move. It’s reminiscent of another well-made coming-of-age film, Booksmart, in that way. Despite what other films will have you believe, high school can’t be categorized so easily into cool and uncool, popular and unpopular. Suncoast gets that, and it’s refreshing to watch authentic friendship grow here.
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