Saint Frances Review
It is almost expected to be a screw up in your twenties, to not know where you’re going and to make bad life decisions. When you hit your thirties, however, that’s when the general consciousness expects you to have things together; to have a steady job, a home of your own, possibly a spouse and kids, and just generally to know what you want from life. The problem is that that is nowhere near the reality for a lot of us, especially in this current world we live in. Saint Frances is a frank, funny, sad, and soul-soothing reassurance that nobody has it together, and that sometimes maturity can mean different things to different people.
Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan, who also wrote the film) is 34 with no degree, no long-term relationship, and no clue. She accepts a job as a nanny for seemingly perfect couple Annie (Lily Mojekwu) and Maya (Charin Alverez) caring for their six-year-old daughter Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). After a night with sex buddy Jace (Max Lipchitz) Bridget needs to seek out an abortion. The aftermath leads to some confrontations for Bridget about her life as she bonds with young Frances and becomes more involved with the family and their ups and downs.
Saint Frances is a film that doesn’t shy away from the reality of its situations, whether it be Bridget’s abortion, period sex, postpartum depression, faith, or the pitfalls of living in a same sex marriage, and most importantly the film passes no judgement on any of these things. It’s refreshingly honest to see, and it’s something that we’re seeing more of in cinema. Likewise, with the depiction of Annie and Maya’s relationship - they do experience homophobia and racism (and in a memorable scene, it's 'Frannie' who steps in) - it is the kind of LGBTQIA+ representation we need; normalising experiences with fully-formed characters, living, loving, and facing the universal struggles of being parents.
Bridget is a character whose life situation is highly relatable. The benchmarks of life are immaterial and nobody really decides on or enforces them but the pressure is often felt. For some of us, like Bridget, there is that pang every time we see someone else we know has gotten married, had a baby, or is doing financially better, and wondering why we don’t have that yet.
One scene that is especially infuriating to watch is when Bridget encounters someone she briefly went to college with, and upon discovering that Bridget is a full-time nanny, the person proceeds to treat her as a nearly invisible servant in a series of entitled micro-aggressions and snobbery that infuriates. It leads to a payoff that maybe isn’t the most adult way of dealing with things but is certainly satisfying to see, and cements Bridget’s bond with Frances. Bridget can be immature, sometimes painfully so, unable to confront things and lacking in self-reflection but it only serves to make her human. There are moments where you want to interject and reach through the screen to give a shake she has to figure out for herself how to get out of that mindset. It's so convincing, you have to presume O’Sullivan is writing from a place of experience (good and bad), and the effect is one that is both cathartic and entertaining.
The cast are all great; understated and genuine, but it really is a two-hander between O’Sullivan and Williams. Child actors can be hit or miss and easily come across as too precocious to be realistic. The right balance is struck here, and this is the best child performance I’ve seen since Brooklynn Prince in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. There's a reason the film is named for her. Both she and Bridget grow up in different ways, and by the end you believe in their relationship and their connection.
If I had to have any issues with the film, it is that sometimes the passage of time isn’t entirely clear. Some things which seem to happen very quickly after each other are actually taking place weeks apart and other times a lot seems to happen in what we realise is meant to be the same day. It’s a little thing it can take you out of the moment. It barely factors into the enjoyment of the film though, as it is clearly the growing pains of a first time feature director as Alex Thompson is, having previously only made short films. Overall though the film is a solid foundation for a feature career and I will be curious to see what he does next.
Everything isn’t wrapped up entirely by the film's conclusion; Bridget doesn’t have any major epiphany about life, we don’t see Maya talking to a doctor about her postpartum depression or heading to couple’s therapy with Annie, but we don't need it - there is hope and sometimes all that's needed. Saint Frances is brutally honest. endearingly sweet, realistic, unpretentious, and packs an emotional punch - one of the indie joys of the year.
Vertigo Releasing will release Saint Frances digitally on July 17th.