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Suncoast 2024


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Paul Asay

Movie Review

Life is precious. So we all say.

But is every life precious? Is every life worth preserving?

Questions about life have dominated national discourse for decades. The so-called culture wars have been fought, largely, on the issue’s sprawling battlegrounds. And one of the biggest flashpoints in the mid-2000s centered around a woman named Terri Schiavo.

Schiavo went into cardiac arrest in 1990. She survived but was in what most doctors described as a “persistent vegetative state.” Her husband—believing his wife would not want to live this way—petitioned to have her feeding tube removed. Schiavo’s parents opposed the petition. And for seven long years—until 2005—the woman’s fate was fought in court as Schiavo lay in Florida’s Suncoast hospice.

But she was not alone in Suncoast.

In the movie Suncoast, down the hall lay another living, dying soul. Max, a teen too young, suffers from brain cancer. He hasn’t walked or talked in years. And all that time, his mother, Kristine, has been performing a silent vigil—caring for and doting over her only son.

She only recently moved Max to Suncoast—a place where he’d spend the rest of his all-too-short days. She and her daughter, Doris, can’t care for Max at home anymore, as his needs are just too daunting. But Kristine doesn’t like the fact that Max’ll spend the rest of his days in a place of pink walls, annoying noises and (in Kristine’s eyes) fake, uncaring caregivers.

Kristine can’t leave her boy alone in a place like that. She can’t. And she tells 17-year-old Doris that she’ll be sleeping in Max’s Suncoast room from now on, until he passes—spending each and every precious night with her precious son.

That means teenage Doris will be sleeping in their small house alone. And when Doris starts to protest, Kristine makes it clear that she doesn’t want to hear it.

“He’s my child,” Kristine tells Doris. “When he’s in pain, I’m in pain.”

“I’m your child, too,” Doris says.

“For God’s sake, give me a break,” Kristine says with an eyeroll.

Every life is precious, we say. But sometimes, what we say conveys something else: Some lives are more precious than others.

Doris has lived in Max’s unmoving shadow for years now—watching as her mother poured all her attention, all her affection into him. She wishes things could be different. She wishes her mom could see that she’s growing up. That she could use a little parenting, too.

Because hey, let’s be honest: Curious, affection-starved 17-year-olds in possession of an otherwise empty house might just grow up in all the wrong ways.

Positive Elements

Yep, Kristine has her share of issues, and she makes her share of mistakes. But let’s give her credit for caring and protecting Max as she does. She’s made plenty of sacrifices for him over the years. And while she tends to terrorize anyone who might dare to cross her or get between her and her son, the affection she feels for him is real.

She’s made sacrifices for Doris, too—working long hours to keep her in a good Christian school instead of (as she sees it) a dangerous public one. And ultimately, when Kristine begins to see just how damaged her relationship with Doris is, she starts the hard work of repair.

“We’re gonna have fun again,” she tells Doris. “When this is over, I’ll—I’ll learn how to have fun again.”

That’s late in the movie, though. For most of it, Kristine isn’t much of a mom. Thankfully, a much-needed, wholly unexpected parental figure does step into Doris’ life.

Paul came to Florida to protest the impending removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. By chance, he’s standing behind Doris in a fast-food restaurant line when he overhears that she’s short of the money to pay. He pays for her, and the two wind up talking over lunch.

They see each other regularly: Paul’s still one of the protesters outside Suncoast that Doris must wade through to get to her brother and mother. He reminds her that every life is precious. And even as Doris wishes that her brother would just pass on already and give her a chance to be a normal teen, Paul cautions her to not be so eager to wish him out of this world.

“Once your brother’s gone, he’s gone,” he says. “And he’s never coming back. And you will miss taking care of him.”

“No I won’t,” Doris says.

“You will,” Paul insists. “you’ll miss everything. All the good, all the bad. H—, especially the bad.” Paul, still grieving over his own lost wife, speaks from experience.

Paul helps in other ways, too—offering strong advice, a laugh or two and even a driving lesson. He steps into the vacuum that Kristine left in Doris’ life. And while he can’t fill the whole of that cavernous hole—not even close—he does what he can.

Spiritual Elements

Doris goes to a Christian school. When Paul asks if she’s a Christian, Doris says “Not exactly. My mom thinks that religion is [expletive]. No offense. She just didn’t want me going to public school after some kid shot his math teacher.”

Any Christian influence that Doris absorbs at school, then, is almost by accident.

In what appears to be an ethics class, the teacher encourages robust discussion and does try to shoehorn in some faith-centric thoughts here and there. For instance, he asks the class about abortion. Just because it’s legal in all 50 states (in the movie’s 2005 timeframe), does that make it ethical? One student says absolutely not, because the Bible forbids it. Actually, the teacher tells them, “There’s no explicit prohibition in the Bible in either the Old or the New Testament.” (The word “explicit” is key there, as Scripture includes several implicit references that life begins at conception, giving every life dignity.)

That abortion-opposing guy is unusual. Most of the students can’t seem to be bothered with the debate, and many behave in ways that certainly run counter to a traditional understanding of what the Christian walk looks like.

As for Paul, Suncoast suggests that he’s a man of faith. Sure, he doesn’t fit stereotypical evangelical tropes: He looks like an aging hippy and swears with enthusiasm. But he certainly doesn’t shy away from the “Christian” label when Doris slaps it on him. And when he finishes giving Doris a driving lesson, he jokingly prays, “Thank You, thank You for letting me live through this.”

And it’s pretty clear that most of his fellow protestors are Christians as well. We see them outside the hospice: Some wear tape across their mouths with crosses drawn on the tape. A priest blesses people on the sidewalk. Crosses and Jesus’ name adorn many a cardboard sign.

Brittany, one of Doris’ friends, calls prom the “holiest of nights,” and she compares Doris to an “angel.” We see a cross on a classroom wall. Paul’s late wife was apparently Catholic.

[Spoiler Warning] Kristine may dislike religion; and Doris is, at best, indifferent toward it. But things change as Max’s death approaches. And if they don’t embrace Christianity exactly, they certainly express a certain hope. We see Kristine—strong, brittle Kristine—openly break down in tears in the hospice chapel. And after Max dies, she tells Doris that he’s still with them both. He can still hear them. Doris tells Paul much the same thing. “I think—I know—that he’s in a better place now. I know he’s happier. He’s free.”

Sexual Content

Because she spent most of her teen years in near-isolation caring for her brother, Doris feels quite sheltered as Suncoast opens. That quickly changes when Kristine starts sleeping at the hospice. The fact that Doris has access to parentless house earns her a place of importance in her school’s party-hearty clique, and her best friends are sexually active. One talks about her long-term boyfriend (and his penchant for cheating on her), and the other makes plenty of risqué remarks throughout the film.

At one point, the high schoolers play a combination of “Truth or Dare” and “Never Have I Ever,” which leads to everyone present (including Doris) stripping down to their underwear. Doris and a high-school boy kiss in this state of semi-undress. Doris and her best friends (Laci, Brittany and Megan) sneak into a nightclub while dressed in revealing garb. (Megan says it’s icky how the men in the club are staring at her—then adjusts her dress to extenuate her cleavage.) When Kristine sees her daughter’s outfit, she tells her that she’s “dressed like a hooker” and accuses her of ignoring Max to hang out with her “perverted friends.” (Earlier, Kristine accuses Doris of “having orgies” as well.)

Girls dress in pretty skimpy attire elsewhere, too, and guys are sometimes seen without shirts. Sexual references and sexually charged conversations (including references to sexual acts) are common. We see a man grab the rear of a girl as the two of them dance. We hear that a guy taught his family parrot to ask for a sexual favor. We see women dressed in bikinis and other scanty attire on TV. In class, students discuss the ethics of public nudity. There are references to hickeys.

One thing worth a quick mention: The idea of a 17-year-old girl hanging out with a 50-something stranger might, and probably should, raise some eyebrows. Certainly, Kristine eyes Paul with a bit of suspicion when she first meets him. But that suspicion is no more than a suggestion, and Paul’s and Doris’ relationship feels much like that of a father and daughter.

Violent Content

Apart from Doris hitting a few flimsy barriers during her driving lesson, we don’t see a lot of explicit violence. That said, the specter of death is an ever-present concern.

Characters talk a lot about death here. Doris tells Paul that her brother is dying, that her father died when she was 3 and that she doesn’t have any relatives to speak of. “Basically, everyone in my family’s dead, except my mom. But I sometimes wish she was.” (Paul scolds her for the joke, telling her that “every life is precious, including your mother’s.”)

Certainly, Paul and most of his fellow protestors believe that pulling Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube is flat-out murder. He calls Suncoast an “executional chamber,” and he says that “when I found out her psychotic husband was trying to murder her, I had to come down and do something.” We see a protestor’s sign that reads, “Starve Michael, not Terri.”

There’s some concern that the protests in support of Schiavo’s continued survival could turn violent—or that an unhinged protestor could attack the hospice itself. When Kristine angrily questions why a policeman is guarding the road into Suncoast, an employee explains that the staff have been getting death threats. (“So you think while I’m dropping my son off, I’m going to kill someone?” Kristine fumes.) When Suncoast receives a bomb threat, the facility locks down and restricts all visitors—including Kristine. (“Everyone in there is about to die anyway,” Kristine snaps at the police officer. “Who would waste a bomb on that place?”)

Incidentally, the story does take place during the time frame when Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed. We see dead people in the facility, often but not always with their faces covered.

Crude or Profane Language

About 13 uses of the f-word and another 20 of the s-word. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “crap,” “h—,” “d-ck” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused more than 25 times, including three times with the word “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused four times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Doris’ new friends party regularly, and those parties always involve alcohol and drugs. Her party peers are obviously impaired most of the time they’re not actually in school. It’s clear that Doris is a novice—but she tries to make up for lost time.

At the first party Doris throws at her house, her friends put sugar cubes in their mouths (which are, we’re told, used as delivery methods for drugs such as LSD). A guy offers her a pill, which Doris refuses. It’s soon pretty obvious that the teenage revelers are either drunk or stoned (except, initially, for Doris).

Before the next big party, Doris’ friends ask her if she smokes marijuana. “Not right now, but I’m thinking about starting soon,” Doris says evasively. When her friends look at her curiously, she says that yeah, she does smoke weed.

At another party, her friends force Doris to do a keg handstand—where she must drink as much beer from the keg’s hose as she can while being held upside down. When those friends discover Max’s old room—festooned with old medical equipment and pill bottles—one stares at a vial of pills and asks if she can take one. (Doris, naturally, says yes, offering them by extension to all of her pals.) When they sneak into a nightclub and Doris orders a vodka cranberry.

Paul smokes cigarettes: Doris ultimately bums a smoke off of him. Another character smokes as well, too.

Other Negative Elements

The Bible tells children to obey their parents, and it instructs parents to not exasperate their children. We see both commands broken in Suncoast.

We’ve already talked about Kristine’s maternal weaknesses, which arguably lead to Doris’ wayward behavior. But man, are they wayward. She lies repeatedly to her mom about her habits and whereabouts. She sneaks out to go to a nightclub—a club she gains access to through a stolen ID—even as her mom tries to repair their relationship. She cruelly, lashes out at both Kristine and Paul at one point (before ultimately regretting it and trying to make amends).

But Kristine lies, too—and about something that one should never lie about.

We see what appear to be high schoolers getting sick in the background of some party scenes.


Suncoast was written and directed by Laura Chinn, and the story is at least partly autobiographical. It’s dedicated to her own brother, Max, who died in 2005 when Chinn was in high school. And compared to Chinn’s own teenage years, Doris’ experiences might seem positively innocent. (In an interview with The Wrap, Chinn says that she could “just walk out my front door and didn’t have to come home until three in the morning … which obviously led to getting in trouble.”)

Those experiences show here. The world we see is filled with sex and drugs, harsh imagery and obnoxious behavior. A reviewer or two has applauded the film for showing that debauchery as a trigger for Doris to break out of her shell and blossom. You could look at Suncoast and see, on the most superficial level, echoes of the incredibly problematic TV-MA show Euphoria—where jaw-dropping amounts of sexual promiscuity and substance abuse are not just depicted, but depicted as normal

I get all that. But I see a little more here.

Suncoast is indeed a coming-of-age story, one in which Doris comes of age far more quickly than most parents would like to see. But it’s also a story about grief and healing. It’s more focused on Doris’ family than it is her friends. And the film feels surprisingly open-handed to all of its characters—pushing against their stereotypes and sinking into their stories.

Doris’ friends are terrible influences, yes. But they are, on some level, real friends, too. And her mother seems perpetually shrill and angry—until Kristine comes to grips with her grief and loss and softens as a result. Paul could’ve been a cardboard cutout Christian protestor, as so many other films would’ve made him. But in Suncoast, he feels real. Sincere. Compassionate.

More movies these days come with a desire to preach or teach. But Suncoast, if it does have a lesson to offer, is more simple, straightforward.

And that lesson? Every life is precious, it says. Even the lives of those who disagree with us. Even those who are unpleasant or unrepentant. Suncoast asks us to be bold enough to consider that we’re all more than who we might seem on the surface. And granting the many problems that Suncoast has on its surface, that’s not a bad message to hold.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.