REEL Review – Saint Frances (2020)

Director: Alex Thompson | 1h 41mins | Drama, Comedy

Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), a 34 year old server, gets a job as a nanny to a sweet young girl named Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). Over the summer Bridget must deal with her own personal life while becoming closer to Frances and her family.

Despite a successful festival run in 2019 and being snapped up by the streaming behemoth Netflix, Saint Frances feels like the type of movie to go under the radar in a mainstream capacity – something that is undeserving of such a fabulous film. Directed by Alex Thompson, written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, this is a film with a genuine feel of representation of the modern woman that’s guided through the experiences of it’s writer and star. 

O’Sullivan stars as Bridget, a server who is surrounded by the pressures of modern societal and social expectations. Her mother wants a grandchild, the people around her are having children and the people she grew up with are in thriving careers. She’s in that existential limbo of not knowing what to do, and feeling as though what you’re doing is not good enough. It’s an honest portrayal of a modern woman, and O’Sullivan plays it with such natural charm and down-to-earth style that you’ll struggle to find a better representation in cinema. 

That down to earth personality is effective in the relationships she builds through the film. At the beginning she is at a party where she meets Jace, a fellow server, and eventually they spend the night together. In the morning however, Bridget notices blood on the sheets and all over Jace’s face. It sets the tone for the film really, using it’s strong feminist mind-set to – not pander to a specific audience – but to normalise the female experience by weaving natural everyday parts of the experience into a tonally-superb film that can be enjoyed by all. 

The way in which the film is shot is wonderfully muted, it feels more like a conscientious observer than anything.

Bridget manages to get a job as a nanny despite her strong opinions on children. She becomes the part-time carer of Frances (where the film gets its title), a six-year-old girl with a charming and feisty personality. The mothers of Frances play their own role in the film’s progressive statement also, Maya (Charin Alvarez), who has just given birth to a son, acts as a wake-up call against the cinematic portrayal of ‘blissful’ motherhood. There is love and endless care, but more importantly the effects of postpartum depression and a feeling of lost connection. Maya’s partner, Annie (Lily Mojekwu), is away working and providing, but feels as though she is missing the most crucial part of her family’s development and becomes cautious of Bridget as a potential rival. It’s yet another example of dramatised normalisation, one that is never forced upon you as a viewer but creates a profoundly lasting impact because of the way O’Sullivan’s screenplay, and Thompson’s soft direction, creates such an authentic portrayal of the struggle. 

The way in which the film is shot is wonderfully muted, it feels more like a conscientious observer than anything. The strength of the film lies in its honest writing and brilliant performances, so it’s made all the more important that the camera doesn’t take anything from them. Scenes of subtle power are amplified through the lens, as if we are gazing upon the film with a Documentary-style education. There’s two scenes in particular that speak volumes about the statement this film is making, one is a stand-off in a park between Bridget, Maya and another woman, and the other is a gorgeous confession booth scene involving Frances and Bridget. It would be wrong of me to describe them too much, I’d rather let you experience their subtle power on your own. 

Another thread that the film is weaving into Bridget’s story is that of her abortion. It’s something that she intricately dodges and passes over emotionally, in her words she’s an “agnostic feminist”, so the emotion that eventually catches up with her feels like an unwanted response from her. It’s such a delicate handling of the situation, one that sees the themes of the movie come charging head first through the barricades of humour and distraction that the film, or Bridget, has put up. It’s a reminder that every woman has a choice in what to do with their body, but more importantly it’s okay to feel saddened by the choice you make – something that will never make you weaker or less of a human being. 

The depth and humanity of Saint Frances runs deep. There’re so many different takeaways from the array of fantastic scenes throughout, but as a whole it’s an experience that is eternally moving in it’s raw representation. Many times we’ve seen films that honour the progressive female figures throughout history and while they’re important in their own way, it’s Saint Frances’ unmatchable ability to normalise the modern female experience that make it one of a kind. The title “one of the best films of the year” is a line thrown around a lot, but it’s befitting of O’Sullivan and Thompson’s tender Drama Comedy.  

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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