'Suncoast' on Hulu — should you stream or skip this Sundance film?

Nico Parker in "Suncoast"
(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

Sundance 2024 was just last month but one of the movies from the prestigious movie festival is already available to watch on streaming services.

After watching the 109-minute coming-of-age story, I can safely say this isn't a perfect film. There's a pretty big flaw that really drags it down. But despite this, there's a lot of promise to the movie too. 

Starring Nico Parker, Laura Linney and Woody Harrelson, "Suncoast" is the semi-autobiographical story of director and writer Laura Chinn's struggle as a teenager growing up with an older brother dying of brain cancer. It hit Hulu Friday morning (Feb. 9) and since it's one of the first festival films this year you can stream at home I decided to check it out for myself. 

So should you stream or skip this Sundance movie? Here's why I think "Suncoast" is ultimately still worth your time.

An image indicating spoilers are ahead.

(Image credit: Future)

Spoiler alert: Spoilers for the movie "Suncoast" ahead

Nico Parker and Woody Harrelson shine in 'Suncoast'

"Suncoast" is three different storylines tied into one. There's a story about Doris (Nico Parker), a girl who is struggling with the fact that nobody knows her and she has no friends, and then suddenly she finds a group of friends. It's pretty classic coming-of-age fare and very reminiscent of "Mean Girls."

Then there's also the storyline of Doris's mother Kristine (Laura Linney), who is so overwhelmed by unprocessed grief over the impending loss of her son, Max (Cree Kawa), who is dying of terminal brain cancer. It's compelling, but the movie would need to devote itself to that storyline to let it shine, and that isn't the point of this movie. Kristine is a supporting character — this is Doris's story.

But then there's Doris's relationship with Paul (Woody Harrelson). Paul is a widower who arrives at the Suncoast hospice center to protest the treatment of Terry Schiavo, whose story that dominated the news back in 2005 serves as a backdrop for this also (partly) true, less famous story. Paul is a devout Christian who firmly believes that Schiavo's life should be preserved at all costs.

Once Paul meets Doris at a nearby diner, he starts to soften up. Doris — dealing with the impending loss of her brother, who is in a similar state as Schiavo — and Paul don't see eye to eye a lot, and at times he snaps or is gruff with Doris. But he also starts to serve as a father figure, who's been essentially abandoned by her overwhelmed mother.

It's their time together on screen that's the highlight of the movie, and I wish it had been given more space. A scene where he teaches Doris to drive is fun; another scene, where he snaps at her about how she'll miss her brother whether she realizes it or not, is an emotional moment for the movie that hits home. I'm happy with what I got from Parker — who is impressive in her performance — and Harrelson on screen together, I just wish that other storylines had given way for them to shine.

The second half 'Suncoast' is closer to the movie I hoped it would be

Okay so remember the three storylines I mentioned? There's a problem — they don't all work. And in the first half of the movie, too much effort is spent on giving them all equal coverage. 

Laura Linney's portrayal of Doris's mother in particular could have been cut heavily from the first half of the movie. Not because it's bad, but because it's giving us something we just don't need for the character to still be effective. Doris and her new high school friends could have probably used a bit less time on screen in the first half too, but that's as much to do with the acting ability of those younger actors as it is their importance to the overall story.

But in the second half, the movie becomes much more polished and cohesive. We get deeper into Doris and Paul's budding friendship, and we get some truly emotional moments between those two as well as between Doris and her mother. Even Doris's time with her new friends feels like it matters more to the story, often because it draws her away from everyone else at pivotal moments. Parker's acting impresses at this stage in the film in particular, making me wish we could have seen her working with a bit more substance in the first half of the film.

Stream it or skip it: Despite its flaws, give 'Suncoast' a shot this weekend

Nico Parker and Woody Harrelson in "Suncoast"

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

As I said before, "Suncoast" is flawed. The movie currently sits at a 6 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes and given I gave it a 3 out of 5 on Letterboxd I think that's a fair assessment. The competing storylines really weigh each other down in the first half of the film and paring away the scenes where Linney's Katherine becomes the focal character in particular would have probably helped this movie.

But it's still worth watching. At times fun and light-hearted but still packs emotional gut punches at the right moments, even the bloat in the script can't ruin this movie. I'd recommend watching for Parker's performance alone, particularly when she's on-screen with Harrelson.

So if you're looking for what to watch this weekend give "Suncoast" a shot. If you already have Hulu, it's not a bad way to spend 105 minutes.

More from Tom's Guide

Malcolm McMillan
Senior Streaming Writer

Malcolm McMillan is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering all the latest in streaming TV shows and movies. That means news, analysis, recommendations, reviews and more for just about anything you can watch, including sports! If it can be seen on a screen, he can write about it. Previously, Malcolm had been a staff writer for Tom's Guide for over a year, with a focus on artificial intelligence (AI), A/V tech and VR headsets.

Before writing for Tom's Guide, Malcolm worked as a fantasy football analyst writing for several sites and also had a brief stint working for Microsoft selling laptops, Xbox products and even the ill-fated Windows phone. He is passionate about video games and sports, though both cause him to yell at the TV frequently. He proudly sports many tattoos, including an Arsenal tattoo, in honor of the team that causes him to yell at the TV the most.