VOD film review: Saint Frances
Katherine McLaughlin | On 18, Nov 2020
Director: Alex Thompson
Cast:Kelly O’Sullivan, Charin Alvarez, Ramona Edith Williams
The messy life of 34-year-old nanny Bridget, who is feeling lost and low in self-confidence, is the focal point for this non-judgemental and nuanced comedy drama, which explores a myriad of female experiences that for too long have been considered taboo.
Written by Kelly O’Sullivan, who takes inspiration from real life, and directed by her partner, Alex Thompson, Saint Frances is a film that exudes warmth, kindness and humour in its portrayal of a woman connecting with a six-year-old child and her parents. It simultaneously celebrates those seminal relationships that can have a lasting effect on your life, while being quietly radical in its approach by discussing women’s bodies openly and acknowledging that not everyone has the same experience when it comes to motherhood, sex, pregnancy, post-partum depression, periods and abortion.
We first meet Bridget at a party where she is engaged in a conversation with a man describing a nightmare he has about the way his life could end up. It’s exactly where Bridget is in her life. Soon after, she hooks up with 26-year-old Jace (Max Lipchitz) and winds up getting pregnant and choosing to have an abortion. Where Eliza Hittman’s Sundance hit Never Rarely Sometimes Always observed abortion from a teenage perspective, looking closely into the process, O’Sullivan comes at it from a different angle, later in life. It follows Bridget through a summer of eye-opening hikes with her mum, sweet boyfriends and not-so-sweet dalliances, and a blossoming relationship with the young girl in her care, the titular Frances (an endearing Ramona Edith-Williams).
All the relationships in the film are compassionately observed, with Bridget striking up at differing times, taut and rewarding friendships with Frances’ mothers, Maya (Charin Alvarez) who is also caring for a new-born and Annie (Lily Mojekwu). Bridget may not be a parent but it is patently clear she feels love for Frances, even as the little scamp continues to test her. As their bond strengthens, the film nails the highs and lows of caring for a child. Edith-Williams’ performance is packed full of mischievousness and tenderness and O’Sullivan’s silent reactions to the unfolding chaos hilariously and poignantly conveys her inner turmoil.
By turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenching, O’Sullivan’s screenplay refuses to go the obvious route with her protagonist’s summer journey. The film has a strong hold on themes of faith, religious or not, and places emphasis on the fact that no matter your age you never really stop growing or learning new things. The characters are beautifully brought to life by credible performances and most of the film is so naturalistically handled that the final emotional wallops and dialogue between characters you’ve grown to care about really hit hard. O’Sullivan relays life’s seemingly small but actually major turning points, channelling them into disarmingly affecting beats and director Alex Thompson equally captures the joy and bravery in these moments with radiant visuals.
Together, they have crafted a love story about a 30-something woman struggling to find herself that is incredibly moving, appealingly open-minded and gorgeously shot. The charm of Saint Frances lies in its frank honesty, compassion and committed performances from a fantastic cast. Fans of Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child may find much to love in this indie gem.