2022, NR, 96 min. Directed by Jessica Hester, Derek Schweickart. Starring Fátima Ptacek, Mia Rose Frampton, Kane Ritchotte, Mia Xitlali, Ciara Bravo, Cristela Alonzo, Eduardo Roman, Melissa Leo.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 8, 2022
The line between authentic teen drama and after school special is a narrow one, and usually depends on how far a story leans into either empathy or condescension. Coast is undeniably empathetic towards the inner lives of kids living in the bland nothingness of California’s Central Coast, but it’s also not got a lot new to add.
The plot is familiar. Teenager Abby (Ptacek) is just your average kid, looking for some direction in life. She gets it when Kristi new girl/bad girl (Frampton) rolls into town, and so, with a rebellious streak added as a personality trait, Abby hooks up with Dave (former Portugal. The Man drummer Ritchotte), the front man for a mediocre Midwest Emo-tinged punk band who offers to take her on the road, away from her brewing fights with best friend Kat (Xitlali), and the constant battles with her nurse mom (Alonzo) and absentee dad (McCarthy-Boyington). She hates everyone and she hates this place, she tells her mom, but that's just typical 16-year-old angst. That's not critical condescension, but kind of what Coast is about, as it turns out that everyone has a rough time when they're 16. Her mom, her overly-enthusiastic school teacher (Roman), her friend who just had a kid. Yes, 16 be hard, and has always been hard, as mom discusses with a patient in her hospital (Leo in an effortlessly excellent cameo). But so what?
Cindy Kitagawa has said that she conceived of this story of very average rebellion as a period piece, which is apt because Coast feels like it could have taken place or been made any time in the last 40 years (a feeling not helped by the heavy use of Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees). In part, that's because its truisms remain valid. At the same time, it's because Coast's only real addition to the teen angst trope is in its attempts to focus the narrative through the lens of the experiences of Hispanic kids only a generation or two from working as undocumented laborers in the area's farms. Yet even those feel tacked on. Again, is that because the core story remains universal, or because Coast is too episodic, too derivative, too much like what has come before and will come again to leave much of a mark? Like the rebellious red tinge that Abby adds to her hair to prove her punk credentials, Coast is impermanent.