Debuting at Sundance 2024 but evoking a cinematic vibe reminiscent of festivals from decades past, “Suncoast” presents itself as a sunny, Searchlight-style crowd-pleaser that leans heavily on charm to compensate for its lack of originality. While this approach may suffice for lighter fare, films in this genre typically require a more profound emotional resonance, something first-time writer-director Laura Chinn struggles to deliver.
The film weaves together a familiar tapestry of dynamics commonly found in Searchlight indies. We follow the coming-of-age journey of Doris (portrayed by Nico Parker, daughter of Thandiwe Newton), who strives to step out of the shadows and assert herself at school. Concurrently, Doris grapples with familial discord, particularly her strained relationship with her mother (played by Laura Linney), who is preoccupied with caring for her terminally ill son. Adding a somewhat extraneous element to the mix, Doris forms an unlikely bond with a grieving husband (Woody Harrelson) protesting outside her brother’s hospice.
Loosely inspired by Chinn’s own teenage experiences in the mid-2000s, “Suncoast” feels more influenced by the earnestly crafted dramedies of that era than by the reality of the time. While Linney delivers a characteristically strong performance, her portrayal of a working-class Floridian feels somewhat incongruous, as does Parker’s portrayal of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Despite their efforts, the authenticity of their characters is undermined by a sense of artifice.
Harrelson’s presence adds little to the narrative, serving primarily to bolster the film’s star power. None of the storylines manage to break free from the constraints of familiarity, with the high school drama feeling particularly lackluster and generic. However, the mother-daughter conflict offers glimpses of emotional depth, albeit marred by occasional moments of melodrama.
“Suncoast” ultimately falls short of leaving a lasting impression, settling instead for pleasant mediocrity. While it may entertain in the moment, it fails to resonate beyond its runtime, lacking the emotional resonance needed to make a lasting impact.