It’s one damned thing after another in Suncoast, a leaden, melodramatic soap opera with forced comedic elements inserted to drag out the playing time. Memorable only for a handful of nicely dedicated performances, mainly the one by the endearing Laura Linney. Polished and three-dimensional in everything she tackles, the paucity of roles meaty and intelligent enough to deserve her is not her fault. She’s too good for her time.
SUNCOAST ★★ (2/4 stars)
In this particular waste of her talent, she plays Kristine, a foul-mouthed paragon of rage and frustration in the deadly town of Clearwater, Florida (at least that’s the way it is shown and described here) who is always on the verge of a nervous meltdown. Her teenage daughter Doris (Nico Parker) is a bright but lonely teenager with no friends, who suffers daily social and educational challenges at school, while Kristine’s son Max (Cree Kawa) lies blind—speechless and unable to move—dying of terminal brain cancer in a hospice medical facility called Suncoast. Doris lives in a state of permanent anxiety, forced to spend most of her nights sitting by her brother’s bedside to watch his vegetative condition, but when her mother decides to start sleeping there herself, Doris alleviates the uncertainty and chaos in her life by inviting her entire class to use her empty house as a place to party hearty. They ply her with booze and drugs, thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to get trashed without parental supervision. Her new status as one of the most popular girls in school is fun for a while—until it isn’t. Predictably, Kristine comes home from the hospice early one night, and all hell breaks loose.
Plunging into an understandable depression (wouldn’t you?), Doris turns for companionship to another miserable visitor to Suncoast, an eccentric senior citizen (played by Woody Harrelson) who is grieving over the death of his own wife. He’s a poor candidate for the role of mentor and surrogate father in which Doris casts him, but in a couple of the many weak, under-written vignettes, Harrelson takes her to a baseball game and teaches her how to drive a car in one afternoon. None of the relationships in the film are pursued beyond surface cliches. Harrelson hangs out at Suncoast to protest a patient’s demands to remove his unconscious wife’s feeding tube, so he obviously has an ideology that warrants further investigation, but he fails to express it. His role is as hugely disappointing as his laid-back performance. Even Laura Linney’s resources are limited in a film so full of empty spaces. For a mother obsessed with every move her daughter makes, why does she fail to ask vital questions, like what is Doris doing hanging out all the time with an eccentric old man instead of kids her own age? And what did Doris do with all that leftover weed after she finished smoking it? Inquiring minds want to know.
Tragedy eventually strikes, but the tears are brief, and the ending comes too fast. Everything that precedes it is so bland and boring that when Max’s death scene finally arrives, Laura Linney gets her chance to collapse, accompanied by hysterics, sobs and regrets (“I should have made you brownies—and I didn’t!”) yet it’s so hammy that none of it has any impact. Amateurishly written and precariously directed by Laura Chinn, Suncoast is neither unbearable nor unforgivable. It’s just another shallow, mediocre coming-of-age movie that makes too many wrong choices and ends up in the file marked familiar and forgotten.