“Suncoast” is based on writer/directors’ Laura Chinn’s own family tragedy. It’s a coming-of-age story about a teen named Doris who has to take care of her dying brother when her mother, Kristine (Laura Linney), is at work.
Doris is played by Nico Parker, the daughter of Thandiwe Newton, and is a dead ringer for her. She has some work under her acting belt and from one particular scene in “Suncoast” alone, you know you’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future. Her performance is remarkable and has range.
Her brother Max (Cree Kawa), who, at this point, is a vegetable, needs care and support from Doris. He’s dying of brain cancer and can no longer speak to the sister he was once very close to. The state he’s in leaves her angry and depressed, but mostly alone, shouldering the responsibility a girl her age shouldn’t have to. Doris has no friends, something she desperately needs to have for a break from watching her brother slowly die in front of her, but where does she have the time to find friends? The word is almost foreign to her.
When mom gets home from work, it’s Max who gets the attention. She’s entrenched in his survival, knowing he’s not going to, but is ignoring everything else until he does. If Doris gets any of her attention, it has something to do with helping her do something for Max. But put your feet in Kristine’s shoes for a moment and you can see why she needs Doris, but Doris needs Kristine to be her mother, too.
They prepare to put Max into a rehabilitation center, the very one where Terri Schiavo’s husband was fighting for the right to have her feeding tube removed. Right-to-life protests were going on when they took him in. Because of this, they had to swim through reporters and people holding crosses. Terri had a heart attack and was left comatose, a persistent vegetative state, for several years. Her parents wanted her to be fed, and a lot of the public was on her side. Because of this, there were death threats, so Doris and Kristine had to be careful, as did the hospital, stopping Kristine, meaning looking in her bag. This didn’t make her happy. She pleads to security to allow her in to see the first person she ever loved. This didn’t sway him. Bags were always checked before she went in and on some nights, she wasn’t allowed in at all. Regardless, it’s all becoming too much on young Doris.
But then she meets Paul (Harrelson), whose wife died years before. He had seen her with her mother, believing Kristine to be a good mother. Doris disagrees. “No. Not to me.” Her point is heard, but Paul reminds Doris that she’d miss all the good and the bad if she didn’t spend time with Max and her mother. He explains that he’d give anything to hear his wife again. They went to bed one night and she just didn’t wake up. She had a brain aneurysm. He gets emotional, telling her to talk to Max. It hits him like it was yesterday. There was nothing he could do. “You’ll just want to… tell him stuff.” If he dies, you can’t. He tries to help her see the bigger picture.
Since Kristine can sleep at the hospital, she takes advantage of her nights away and has some new friends from Ethics Class use her house as a vessel for which to party. She finally got some friends! These people use her at first but then grow to love the beautiful young woman Doris is.
When speaking of the power of the government and others to get in our lives as individuals, her teacher doesn’t use the Terri Schiavo case on purpose to get Doris to speak, but she, for the first time, lets out with her opinion on the matter. There’s more to it, but she essentially says, “We’re not them, and we don’t know what’s ethical until we’re them.”
One of the last scenes is Nico Parker’s chance to shine. She goes and she talks to her brother as Paul suggested. What she says and how she says it is magnificent. The actors around her, watching, had to have been blown away by her performance. This scene is from an actor who will have an Academy Award in her hands one day. You’ll agree. Try and see “Suncoast” in the theaters. If you don’t catch it there, do see it on HULU. It’ll be streaming there on February 9th.
Written and Directed by: Laura Chinn
Starring: Laura Linney, Nico Parker, Woody Harrelson
Running time: 1h 49m
Distributed by Searchlight Pictures
Theaters: 2/2/24 (Limited)