Setting aside its broader framing, Suncoast is an ode to writer-director Laura Chinn’s brother. Her film projects from the perspective of a teenage girl, the daughter of a single mom, whose brother is incapacitated with terminal cancer. In this, Chinn wants to grapple with grand notions of life and death, along with the choices people make in how to deal with it all. This is heavy stuff—and proves too weighty for the film itself.
That’s due in part to that aforementioned framing. Suncoast is set in 2005, with Doris (Nico Parker) moving her brother Max (Cree Kawa) into the same care facility as Terri Schiavo. If that name means anything to you, it’s because of the national hysteria around her case, which eventually came to involve President George W. Bush. That’s the film’s background. The foreground features Doris making friends (a surprisingly sweet subplot), fighting with her mom (Laura Linney, at wit’s end again), and befriending a pro-life activist named Paul (Woody Harrelson). Chinn’s film examines these various plot strands with a too-casual touch, one that doesn’t do much for the film’s lax pacing. The film also does not, to me, present the actual reality of the Schiavo story, using it instead to soften the film’s narrative friction. For example, what kind of film would we have instead if Chinn had allowed Harrelson’s character to shade a bit darker, become too death-obsessed, and act as a warning sign rather than a guiding light? Sure, we can only judge a film for what it is; I do wonder, however, if a more intense examination of the “pro-life” movement would have resulted in a film that was more than just a tribute.
Instead, Suncoast‘s well-meaning sensitivity ends up making the film feel weightless. Yes, these are difficult ethical questions here, with answers that are perhaps not so clear when considered on a case-by-case basis. Still, shouldn’t that create more potent drama, not less? Everything here feels settled—and while I won’t begrudge Chinn her peace, I can be bored by it.