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Suncoast shines light on a dark experience

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Writer Laura Chinn (Grandfathered, Florida Girls) makes her directorial debut with this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about Doris (Nico Parker), a teenager helping her flinty mother, Kristine (Laura Linney), care for her seriously ill brother, Max (Cree Kawa). When Max can no longer speak or move on his own, he's sent to hospice care at the Florida facility called Suncoast, where Doris forms an unusual friendship with Paul Warren (Woody Harrelson), an eccentric activist protesting the removal of the feeding tube in the landmark Terri Schiavo case. (109 min.)

SHARED GRIEF Doris (Nico Parker) and Paul (Woody Harrelson) strike up a friendship as she watches over her dying brother and he protests the feeding tube removal in the Terri Schiavo case, in Suncoast, streaming in Hulu. - COURTESY PHOTO BY ERIC ZACHANOWICH/SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
  • Courtesy Photo By Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures
  • SHARED GRIEF Doris (Nico Parker) and Paul (Woody Harrelson) strike up a friendship as she watches over her dying brother and he protests the feeding tube removal in the Terri Schiavo case, in Suncoast, streaming in Hulu.
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Glen Being a teenager is difficult enough, but try to imagine also being burdened by an unresponsive wheelchair-bound brother you have to push around and a mother who pours on the guilt anytime you try to carve out a little normalcy for yourself. Doris is a nonentity at her Catholic school. She's so busy caring for her brother that she has no friends, that is until she overhears some popular kids from her ethics class lament not having a place to party, so she invites them to her house while her mother spends nights sleeping on a cot at Suncoast to be near Max as his life draws to an end. Doris has a complicated relationship with her mother, who fiercely loves her kids but is so preoccupied with Max that Doris feels used and neglected. This soulful, heartfelt story is about familial love, loss, and trying to find closure. It's a weeper.

Anna It definitely pulls at the heartstrings, especially when you know that Chinn is basing the nuts and bolts of this film on her own life. I've said it before and I'll say it again—Laura Linney is an absolute treasure, and she shows her chops in this role as the exasperated, exhausted Kristine who's trying to navigate her own grief around losing her firstborn. Her kids' dad died when Doris was just a little girl, and Doris has been pushed into the role of caretaker as her brother has gone through his illness. She's torn between a desperate need to feel normalcy and a feeling of obligation to her mom and brother. The relationship with Paul is an interesting one—he's a man who's lived his own grief after losing his wife, and he seems a bit lost. We aren't privy to why the Schiavo case became his cause, but he offers Doris kindness and escape when she needs it most. It really is a touching film from start to finish.

Glen I can't say enough good things about Linney's performance. She makes Kristine both cruel and sympathetic, which is a neat trick. Harrelson is also predictably great. He knows how to communicate a sort of hangdog sadness while also demonstrating a deep moral core. Parker's also sympathetic, and her performance is very sweet as Doris begins to take more control of her life. There were so many surprising, resonant moments. Kristine finds fault everywhere she looks, even in smiling, upbeat Nurse Mia (an amazing Keyla Monterroso Mejia), who helps care for Max in hospice. This shouldn't be a spoiler, he's in hospice after all, but when Max passes, Nurse Mia has a line that destroyed me. It's a lovely film about grieving.

Anna The ending of this film is rough and raw, and even though losing Max was inevitable, Doris didn't realize what a profound effect saying goodbye can have. When her mom pushes her too far, she tries to escape into her new, close-knit friend group—but the looming reality of her soon-to-be loss is never far from the surface. Doris is asked to live in a suspended youth while also asked to grow up far too quickly, both courtesy of her mother. Chinn kept these characters feeling very real, and the unfortunate reality is that everyone must navigate loss and grief on their own terms. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Comment at [email protected].

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