(director/writer: Laura Chinn; Screenwriter: based on Chinn’s memoir Acne. cinematographer: Bruce Francis Cole; editor: Sara Shaw; music: Este Haim, Christopher Stracey; cast: Nico Parker (Doris), Woody Harrelson (Paul Warren), Laura Linney (Kristine), Ella Anderson (Brittany), Amarr (Nate), Daniella Taylor (Laci), Keyla Monterroso Mejia (Nurse Mia), Matt Walsh (Mr. Ladd, teacher), Pam Dougherty (Sue, grief counselor), Scott MacArthur (Sweet n’ Low), Ariel Martin (Megan Kaminski), Jason Burkey (Officer Chauncey); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, Oliver Obst; Searchlight Pictures/Hulu; 2024)

“Awkward, contrived and highly emotional tearjerker.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Television writer Laura Chinn makes her directorial debut a modest one with this semi-autobigraphical, awkward, contrived and highly emotional tearjerker, that’s based on her 2022 memoir Acne.

In 2005, in Chinn’s hometown of Clearwater, Florida, the wheelchair-bound Max (Cree Kawa), the blind and deaf teen son of his hard-working waitress, single mom, Kristine (Laura Linney), has brain cancer, and is placed in the local hospice, after suffering for 10 years at home. It happens to be the same hospice where Theresa “Terri” Schiavo is at.  She has for the last 15 years been on life support in a veggie state. Her husband has gone to court for the right to pull the plug, and wins. The case of the right-to-die advocate has gained wide publicity, and every day brings protesters on the hospice grounds, on both sides of the issue.

Max has been cared for at home by his slightly older, mousy 17-year-old sister Doris (Nico Parker), a fictional Laura. But he’s now cared for in the hospice. Meanwhile Kristine secures a cot and sleeps at the hospice to be with her son as much as she can, and still neglects her other needy child.

The opinionated ‘right to life’ evangelical widower Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson) befriends Doris in a fatherly way at the hospice, and he cheers her up as they comfort each other over their suffering.

At Doris’s Catholic High School, the loner makes some new wealthy and cool friends— Laci (Daniella Taylor), Brittany (Ella Anderson), Megan (Ariel Martin) and Nate (Amarr) after volunteering to host a party in her house that none of their parents would. But this shallow group will leave Doris as sad and lonely as ever, after they use her for their pot smoking party in her mom’s house.

The film raises the controversial issue of euthanasia, but weakly backs off saying anything to ruffle any feathers. Instead it preaches learning life lessons.

It’s a manipulative coming-of-age social issue film, that’s too timid to make any bold statements to make much of an impression.
It played at the Sundance Film Festival.

A still from Suncoast by Laura Chinn, an official
          selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024
          Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
REVIEWED ON 1/30/2024  GRADE: C+