SAINT FRANCES: A Funny & Taboo-Breaking Tale Of Womanhood

Watching Saint Frances, a millennial dramedy debut from director Alex Thompson and actress/screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan, will without a doubt remind you a lot of Gillian Robespierre‘s directorial debut in 2014, Obvious Child. Most especially given how both movies deal with the sensitive topic of abortion. But while the latter focuses only one subject —and does so in an exceptional way— Saint Frances feels more like a whole meal, telling the universal story of female experience while depicting what it feels like to be a woman in a modern world that expects them to do and be a lot of things but will judge them the minute they don’t live up to those expectations. The result is a character study that is equally funny and radical, with O’Sullivan‘s well-observed writing and phenomenal performances from the ensemble at the front and center of the story.

There Will Be Blood

O’Sullivan plays Bridget, a 34-year-old woman drifting through life aimlessly as a restaurant server. When we first meet her, she’s at a party, flirting with a man who shuns her immediately the second he knows that she’s a waitress. At this exact moment, we can sense the embarrassment that Bridget is feeling. Not because of the fact that this man looks down on her, but more because of what he says is true. Yes, Bridget still hasn’t figured out her life yet, or even knows how to get it figured out in the first place, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want it. If anything, Bridget’s insecurity actually speaks volumes about her desire to have a better life as an adult more than it speaks about how clueless she is at navigating her life.

SAINT FRANCES: A Funny & Taboo-Breaking Tale Of Womanhood
source: Oscilloscope Laboratories

With all these character traits, we can all probably guess that what follows will focus on Bridget’s journey of changing her life; of meeting new people who will change her and her worldview. And while parts of it are true, Saint Frances’ main goal is not to change Bridget drastically at the end of the movie. Instead, it concerns most about the learning process and Bridget’s incremental growth as she’s slowly discovering that just like her, everyone doesn’t always fully know how to figure out their lives yet regardless of how composed they may seem on the outside.

This learning process happens through two interconnected storylines: one focuses on Bridget’s journey of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and an abortion, and the other one focuses on Bridget’s new gig as a summer nanny for the titular Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), the six-year-old daughter of a mixed-race lesbian couple, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu). The first plotline, in particular, is where O’Sullivan‘s skill as a writer shines the most, unapologetically displaying the process and the aftermath of abortion in ways that are enlightening and entertaining at the same time.

SAINT FRANCES: A Funny & Taboo-Breaking Tale Of Womanhood
source: Oscilloscope Laboratories

A lot of blood will be displayed throughout. Even during the first 10 minutes of the movie, menstrual blood is already making an appearance. So, to say that Saint Frances is the bloodiest movie of the year actually wouldn’t be too far-fetched. But what’s fascinating about any of these is how Saint Frances explores this sensitive subject without resorting to propaganda. Nothing feels too political, even when some parts feel a little heavy-handed, like the moment when Bridget’s mom (Mary Beth Fisher) delivers a speech about how women often suppress a lot of things, or the moment when Bridget is having a heart-to-heart conversation about her abortion with her boyfriend Jace (Max Lipchitz) to show that men, too, have emotions, everything in Saint Frances feels natural and genuine until the final moment.

O’Sullivan‘s gift as a writer is also matched with her phenomenal performance. Her Bridget is never dramatic, but all of her emotions, even the one that she hides deep inside, is delivered in detail by O’Sullivan. On top of that, she’s also able to balance Bridget’s millennial ennui with her angsty side in a way that feels real. And to know that it’s only her real big debut as a screenwriter and an actor just makes it all the more remarkable.

Life Is Messy And That Is Okay

The movie’s radical approach to Bridget’s abortion might be the part that will spark a lot of conversation, but the heart and soul of Saint Frances actually rest on the relationship between Bridget and Franny. When they first meet, Bridget has no idea how to take care of a six-year-old child. Hell, she doesn’t even like children in the first place. But once they’re able to find common ground and enjoyment in each other’s presence, we see their relationship grows.

Yes, this well-trodden trope of a directionless adult learning something from a child may sound pretty formulaic. And at times, Saint Frances does indeed feel like something we’ve seen before. But where other movies tend to portray the child as a character whose wisdom and action go far beyond their age, so that they can influence the adult character, here in Saint Frances, Franny is written just like a real child. She’s cute and endearing, yes, but she’s also portrayed as bratty at the same time, with Edith-Williams delivering a marvelous performance at displaying every side of Franny in a way that feels natural.

SAINT FRANCES: A Funny & Taboo-Breaking Tale Of Womanhood
source: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Bridget’s growth also never feels too fixated on her interactions with Franny. She’s actually just there to be a catalyst; a person who allows Bridget to take a step back and reflects on her own life. In fact, it’s through what’s happening around Bridget while she’s nannying Franny where she actually learns the most about herself and the world she lives in. From Maya’s journey of dealing with postpartum depression, and Annie’s struggle to always be there for her wife and children, Bridget learns that no matter what age and how successful you are, life will still be messy and full of hardships; and that it’s okay if you feel like you haven’t figured out everything yet at the moment, because at the end of the day, who does?

By showing all these different challenges that Bridget, Maya, and Annie are facing, Saint Frances reminds us that we need to always be kind to both ourselves and other people because we never know what they’re going through, or what kind of difficulties that they have to deal with. Life may be hard, but if there’s anything that Saint Frances has taught us is that if we’re kind to each other, we can always get through anything.

Conclusion: A Rare Miracle

Saint Frances doesn’t make a big statement about the female experience until its final moment, and it doesn’t need to. By simply showing us what it feels like to be a woman in a modern world in ways that are real and sincere, the movie has successfully engaged us to talk about things that are rarely touched before in movies. It’s funny and heart-warming; revelatory and touching; and most of all, it’s a rare miracle and one of the best movies of the year. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

Have you seen Saint Frances? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments below!

Saint Frances is available on VOD.

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