Saint Frances is a poignant tale of female connection from different sides of the argument. One of the films first scenes depicts post-coital menstrual blood, a topic very rarely— if ever, mentioned on screen before. Saint Frances tackles the feminine experience like no other: sex, periods, abortions, postpartum depression and homophobia are all discussed with an unflinching honesty.
This honesty is anchored by the innocent and precocious of six-year-old Franny (Ramona Edith-Williams). Bridget (played by the film’s writer Kelly O’Sullivan), upon realising she has been wasting her life away as a server, finds a place as a nanny to Franny over the summer. Franny’s mothers Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu) have a new-born and a demanding career as well as trying to juggle their relationship and their daughter. Bridget starts the job as a rather inept and inexperienced caregiver, struggling with their fiery and independent daughter. Slowly the pair begin to warm to each other, each learning lessons from the other.
Bridget worries that time is running out to find herself, to find a career, to find the right partner and to have children. She isn’t sure if she really wants these things or if she’s just feeling the pressures of society and her mother’s nagging about her ageing uterus. Her constant social media feed of baby pictures and pregnancy announcements is not helping things either.
She begins an undefined ‘thing’ with the younger and sensitive Jace (Max Lipchitz), which results in her becoming pregnant. She decides to terminate via the abortion pill— the process shown in an honest yet unsentimental detail; there is no cramp and clot not spoken about during the process.
The only other movie that deals with realities of abortion with such humour and realism is Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. Whilst the abortion is very much wanted, Bridget’s summer is still coloured with all the messiness, emotion and guilt that comes with that choice.
Saint Frances has a lot of big themes on its mind, contending with both straight and gay partnerships and their unique problems as well as religion. Maya and Bridget both have their own relationship to God, yet the film never becomes overwhelmed by these topics. Annie, the sole breadwinner of the family, is never depicted as a selfish villain, but instead as someone who becomes detached to her wife’s postpartum depression as her own way of coping with motherhood. This all culminates in an incredibly moving scene where Franny and Bridget confide in each other in a confessional booth.
The self-acceptance Bridget longs for embraces all her flaws. This isn’t a film about becoming an ‘adult’ but about growing as a human and celebrating the messiness of femininity. This is especially prominent when Maya and Annie’s neighbour turns out to be her former classmate Cheryl (Rebekah Ward), an insufferable snob who treats her Bridget like a servant and judges her for her own choices in life. A borderline parody with a pro-choice fridge magnet, career as a self-help guru and a child who is possibly-but-probably-not allergic to everything, the little revenge taken is satisfying to anyone who has ever encountered this privileged type of white feminist. Bridget’s relationship with Frances’ smarmy guitar teacher, Isaac (Jim True-Frost), is an embodiment of the moral creepiness of privileged and attractive older men around lonely women.
If any fault could be found with Saint Frances, it’s that it connects femininity with wombs. All the problems of the women in this film stem from motherhood, or lack of. At times it loses its character-driven plot in favour of showcasing feminist principles. A scene where Bridget and Maya argue with a homophobic and self-righteous mother gets a little unrealistic and becomes a PSA, but even in these scenes, Saint Frances never loses its charm and heart.
Saint Frances is a stunning debut from writer O’Sullivan and her real-life partner, director Alex Thompson, with its unconventional approach to a rather conventional narrative. In the hands of a lesser writer, Franny would be the annoying wise-beyond-their-year child that frequently appear in this type of films. By injecting this film with humanity and a rarely seen honesty, O’Sullivan has created an affecting indie dramedy.
Saint Frances will be in cinemas this July
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy
Categories: Reviews, Women Film-makers
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