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These Strong Female Leads Grapple With Ethics ~ At The Movies With Kasey

On the heels of Women’s History Month, a string of movies dropped that tell the stories of women making changes, both political and personal. Among these projects, I found a couple of movies featuring strong performances and thin plots as well as a gem of a coming-of-age story.

On Netflix, Shirley follows the 1972 presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm (Regina King), the first Black woman elected to Congress. Along the way, she is helped by her husband, Conrad (Michael Cherrie), mentor Mac Holder (Lance Reddick), and campaign staffers such as Robert Gottlieb (Lucas Hedges).

Shirley celebrates a woman who made important contributions to American politics and served her district well. It also is a vehicle for showcasing the considerable talent of Regina King. Otherwise, the movie is a pretty standard biopic. The film starts with Chisholm’s first day in Congress and quickly moves forward to her presidential campaign. From there, the narrative gets bogged down in the intricacies of a national political operation, but it takes time to depict the intense sexism and racism she faced and the ways that Chisolm’s work paved the way for those who came after her, such as Representative Barbara Lee (Christina Jackson). I wanted a bit more pizzazz in the storytelling, but that perhaps would have run counter to Chisholm’s steady, consistent leadership.

Shirley was written and directed by John Ridley. It runs 117 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Also on Netflix, Scoop tells another story of strong women in a much seedier story. The film follows BBC producer Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) as she works to land the bombshell interview with Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) in which he attempted to answer the allegations against him and his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. With Gillian Anderson as journalist Emily Maitlis and Keeley Hawes as Prince Andrew’s private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, Scoop walks where She Said ran.

Gillian Anderson gets top billing in this film, but much of the excitement in the story comes from rooting on Billie Piper’s McAlister, a bit of a misfit in the Newsnight production office. Her instincts and connections with paparazzi give the plot punch, especially in contrast to the staid demeanor of the palace, as exemplified by Keeley Hawes as Amanda Thirsk. Anderson is wonderful as always, subtly depicting how Maitlis gives Andrew plenty of space in which to fall, but it’s Piper’s show. As Prince Andrew, Rufus Sewell was an odd casting choice. He performs well, but the makeup effects used to transform his face distract from his work, and he never really disappears into the role.

This film has high production value and solid performances, but I could not help but wonder what the point of it all was. The Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew was shocking because of his lack of self-awareness and remorse. That he stepped back from public duties afterward was a big result. But whether or not justice has been served is a real question that lingers over the story, as no one was found criminally liable in Andrew’s case and he still struts around at church with the royals. With all that in mind, I do not think we needed a film about how that interview came about. Despite how well-done the movie was (aside from the makeup), it did not feel like it contributed anything that the original interview did not.

Scoop was written by Geoff Bussetil and Peter Moffat and directed by Philip Martin. It runs 102 minutes and is rated TV-14.

On Hulu, Suncoast stars Nico Parker as Doris, a teenager whose older brother has entered hospice care. As her mother, Kristine (Laura Linney), is consumed with her dying child, Doris tries to make friends and have more experiences now that she is no longer caring for her brother herself. She also befriends Paul (Woody Harrelson), a man protesting outside the hospice center, where Terri Schiavo is also in care.

Setting a coming-of-age story against the backdrop of protests over the medical case of Terri Schaivo seems like an unhinged creative choice, but writer/director Laura Chinn treats the subject matter carefully, using the controversy over Schaivo’s treatment as a way into the ethical and emotional complexities of Doris’s story (inspired by Chinn’s own).

Nico Parker gives a stunning performance as Doris, and Laura Linney does not smooth the ragged edges of Kristine’s grief or her sometimes cruel treatment of Doris. Amid these fraught performances, Woody Harrelson’s character and the tone of his delivery are sometimes too soft, but without him, any levity would come from drunk high schoolers. The writing and these performances carefully balance the sweeter elements of Doris breaking free and the heaviness of her life to this point.

Suncoast deals with some of the harder parts of life—death, growing up, guilt, and all the grey areas—but it does so with a big heart, a soft touch, and enough humor not to be bleak. I have thought about it often in the days since I watched it.

Suncoast was written and directed by Laura Chinn. It runs 109 minutes and is rated R.

Kasey Butcher

Kasey Butcher

She is proud to be a Ft. Wayne native, a graduate of Homestead HS, Ball State University & Miami University. She became involved with journalism editor-in-chief for her high school magazine. She authors the "At The Movies with Kasey Butcher" review. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer