©Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures
Synopsis : Inspired by Chinn’s life experience from the early 2000s, follows a teenager (Nico Parker) living with her strong-willed mother (Laura Linney), who must take her brother to live at a specialized facility. There, she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist (Woody Harrelson) amidst protests surrounding one of the most landmark medical cases of all time.
Rating: R (Language|Teen Drug and Alcohol Use|Some Sexual References)
Original Language: English
Director: Laura Chinn
Producer: Jeremy Plager, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy, OliverObst
Writer: Laura Chinn
Release Date (Theaters): Limited
Release Date (Streaming):
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Production Co: Freestyle Picture Company, Seven Deuce Entertainment, Searchlight Pictures
© Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures
Exclusive Interview with Writer/Director Laura Chinn
Q: Your brother was in a hospice when the Terri Schiavo case became national news. What impact did the Terri Schiavo case have on you so that you set this story around 2005?
Laura Chinn: My brother was in the hospice with her. That’s why we set it in that time period; it all took place at that time.
Q: While you dealt with saying goodbye to your brother, there was the media coverage surrounding the Terri Schiavo case. Your mother was probably exhausted, juggling her job with taking care of your brother. But this film has such an upbeat element to it. Was it similar to your state of mind in those days or was it a completely different situation back then?
Laura Chinn: My mother and I are both pretty upbeat people. We laughed a lot during that time. I’ve always found the harder parts of life to be very funny and so bringing comedy and the lightheartedness into the movie was a natural thing for me. Although that time period was super-challenging, there was still a lot of laughter and joy when we could find it.
Q: Finding the right actress for Doris was a key to this project. Take us through the casting process. Did you go through a lot of auditions? What elements struck a chord with you that made you decide to cast Nico Parker? She’s phenomenal.
Laura: She’s amazing. We did readings with a lot of [possibilities to play] Doris. We did chemistry reads with Laura Linney. I had met Nico a few months before we started casting and really loved her. I think she’s a very brilliant young girl and enjoyed talking with her. I found her to be very funny, which I thought was going to be helpful with this movie. When I read with her, I thought she had an emotional availability and an emotional truth that she was able to tap into. It was so deep for someone her age — actually, for someone of any age. She just completely blew me away in a read over Zoom. Then when she did a chemistry read with Laura, that really sold me. Though we looked at a lot of people, Nico was always my number one.
Q: Could you talk about creating Paul Warren, Woody Harrelson’s character. When you’re in a situation and don’t know what you’re doing, he was the person who was very helpful when you’re depressed. He’s someone who can put things in perspective and guide you to the light. Talk about creating that character who is so supportive of Doris.
Laura: He’s based on a mentor of mine. My writing mentor is 20 years older than me. I met him when I was 21 in Los Angeles and he was so supportive and has been a guiding force in my life. He’s someone I’d call whenever I’m upset about work, and he always puts everything in perspective. He’s just been amazing. I was sort of paying homage to that relationship. I also knew I wanted someone on the protest side of the Terri Schiavo case to be in the movie because I wanted to show all these different ways that people grieve and deal with death. So it’s kind of a combination of those things.
Q: Even though you saw your brother being taken care of by the people in the hospice, what kind of conversations did you have with the hospice team in order to make the film so authentic and true to life?
Laura: I went there last year and got a tour of the facility where my brother died. I hadn’t been there since I was 19. One of the nurses who showed me around the facility was so amazing — we talked a lot. Hospice nurses are the most empathetic people in the whole world. They spend their days nursing the sickest humans on the planet and have these massive hearts.
I spoke to this woman who was opening up about what it had been like going through COVID. We just talked a lot and it was really helpful. I would call and get information from them. But it was my own experience being there in so many hospitals with my brother while he was sick for six years [that helped as well]. I was in so many children’s hospitals all over the country and I was just tapping into all of those resources.
Q: What was engaging about this script is that the friends who surrounded Doris are not the stereotypical students that are often portrayed in movies. They seem to be a very empathetic group. Talk about creating such a dynamic band of student characters embracing Doris.
Laura: It really was just based on my experience growing up. I had very good, sweet friends who were there supporting me. Audiences are happy that the girls don’t turn on her but it was just a result of me having grown up with friends that were kind and good people. Hopefully, this movie will remind the world that not all teenage girls are mean. There are nice teens in the world.
Q: The relationship between the mother Kristine (played by Linney) and Doris (played by Parker) is remarkable. Of course, there are moments where they speak very heartbreaking things to each other, but at the same time, there’s an unspoken bond there as well. Talk about creating that difficult balance in the mother/daughter relationship?
Laura: We rehearsed a lot with the goal of getting them really comfortable around each other. I think that’s so important that even when these characters aren’t getting along, you feel their love for each other so we talked about that a lot. I have to credit these two actresses. I think they have really big hearts and are genuinely very good people. Laura Linney is one of the best people I’ve met and Nico is a very genuinely sweet 17-year-old. They’re bringing that energy to it. Regardless of how harsh something is on the page, you have these actresses with these good souls — which comes through in their performance. It never feels like genuine hatred or is too dark because the goodness of these people come through.
©Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures
Q: Did Laura or Nico do any kind of improvisation when the scene was especially difficult emotionally? It seems like some of the elements are very spontaneous but did you stick closely to the script?
Laura: I don’t think so, no. It was all scripted. I know that with the more emotional moments at the end of the movie, we really gave them freedom to move around. Our cinematographer, Bruce Francis Cole, talked a lot about just being on steadicam and letting the actors move. We didn’t really block it super intensely. It was just a rough idea of like, enter the room here and at some point be on the spot and then move there. We let them kind of flow. I think that gave the film a more organic feeling, especially during those heavier scenes.
Q: Though dealing with the dark issue of serious illness, your cinematographer Bruce Francis Cole was able to bring out a magical quality to the film. Filming in sunny Florida helps elevate the mood of the storyline. Talk about your collaboration with Bruce.
Laura: It was all very intentional. I think we knew that we had a challenging subject matter. With a sick child, it’s going to be challenging. We wanted the movie to be very light. We wanted there to be a lot of comedy. We didn’t want to do a lot of really close close-ups, which would make it feel like a drama, sort of claustrophobic. We wanted it to play more with an in-wide [angle], like a comedy. We talked a lot about the color palette with our production designer.
We used Florida colors to make everything feel sun-drenched and almost like a vacation. Since it’s set in this place where everyone’s on vacation — after all, this is the spring break capital of America — this family happened to be going through a very hard thing so we wanted to keep all those feelings in balance. We knew our subject matter has its own emotional tone, but we just wanted everything around it to sort of give it some buoyancy.
Q: Did you shoot completely in Florida? It said on IMDb that some scenes were shot in Charleston, South Carolina.
Laura: We shot in both Florida and South Carolina, mostly in Charleston.
Q: In choosing the right location, what did filming in Charleston bring to the production?
Laura: Well, we shot in Charleston just because of the tax credit. But Florida doesn’t give a tax credit. I wanted to shoot there because I think Florida is so beautiful and cinematic. But Charleston’s beautiful too. I think we ended up with a beautiful movie. I don’t think that [the film] suffered. Our location manager was from Florida so she had a keen eye for finding locations that looked like Florida, even if they were in Charleston.
Q: When you were actually taking care of your brother, visiting Suncoast Hospice – Woodside, what was it like to go there? What kind of people were taking care of your brother? How did you incorporate your experience with that hospice into the film?
Laura: They were amazing. My brother was very sick, blind, deaf and he couldn’t walk. By the time he was months away from passing away, he needed a lot of care. My mom, who was his primary caregiver, was just not able to do all the things that he needed. We needed big strong people to be able to lift him up, keep him clean and all those things. When it became time, we moved him into hospice; it had to be within a six-month window of death. He was getting the most immaculate care and my mom was so relieved, we all were, so that he could pass away with dignity, in such a clean environment.
All the nurses, everyone at every hospital, always fell in love with my brother because he was so handsome, very charming and funny. Even at the hospice, he was just the life of the party even as he was coming close to the end of his life. At the end of the movie, one scene showed how all the nurses would cry as they cared for my frail brother. It was so sad that the nurses were crying but my brother had that effect on people because he was so charming. I was so thankful for [the hospice staff]; they were truly angels. I don’t know anyone on this earth who does more good than caretakers and nurses of all kinds.
Laura: It was so amazing. They love films so much there. It felt like going home. I love movies so much. I’ve never been in an environment around more people who love movies as much or more than I do. It’s just a really, really, special organization. They’re so forward thinking, passionate and artistic. They care about storytelling and different kinds of stories and voices. I just love Sundance. Since I was a student there, being able to show a film there was a dream.
Here’s the trailer of the film.