*NOTE: This is a reprint of our review from the Sundance Film Festival*
In January of 2023, Nico Parker stole the first episode of The Last of Us, playing the doomed daughter of Pedro Pascal in the HBO existential zombie series. The follow-up to her breakout role is playing an average teenager in just as a devastating situation: dealing with her brother going through hospice.
Written by first-time writer/director Laura Chinn, Suncoast follows Doris (Parker) as she ignores her feelings about her brother’s impending death. As she starts to acclimate to her Christian High School, her mother Kristine (Laura Linney) moves her son into the Suncoast Hospice Center. It just so happens that it is 2005 and the facility is the same one where Terri Schiavo, a vegetative woman at the center of a national debate between right-to-die groups and pro-life ones, was placed by her husband.
Suncoast marks Chinn’s directorial debut, but she did cut her teeth writing for sitcoms like The Mick and Grandfathered. Despite her comedy background, the film is extremely moving and filled with pathos for every single character. Doris is a typical teenager that you’ve seen in other coming-of-age films, but because it is partially based on Chinn’s real life, the character feels like a groundbreaking representation. She takes advantage of the distance between herself and her mother by throwing parties at their home while Kristine sleeps at the center. Keeping an eye on her is Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson), a life advocate protesting Schiavo’s impending death outside the hospice.
Woody Harrelson plays the religious version of his character in The Edge of Seventeen. Guiding Doris along, he serves as more of a mentor character than someone on their own journey. It seems like Harrelson likes to break out the surrogate father figure every couple of years and he’s good at it.
Laura Linney is trading her prim and proper but ruthless character from Ozark for a vicious and passionate mother as Kristine. Both Linney and Chinn do a great job at making the character seem neglectful of her daughter for the most understandable reason. Linney is raw and yet grounded, throwing in a few laughs here and there.
Keyla Monterroso Mejia, who you may know from her guest spots on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Abbot Elementary, shows up as an overly smiley nurse. It’s a very small part but Mejia knows how to make the most of it.
Despite standout performances, Suncoast belongs to Parker. It’s a star-making turn for the young actress and somehow she can be relatable and funny in a very specific situation. She doesn’t milk the humor and instead brings a sweet awkwardness to Doris. Her performance, which won the Breakthrough Performance Award at Sundance, and Chinn’s script work beautifully together. If this is the role she chose as her follow-up to The Last of Us, then I can’t wait to see the full breadth of her range.
Suncoast will premiere on Hulu on Feb. 9.