Saint Frances is a little treasure, a film so full of truth and warmth that you almost hate to see it end. Writer/star Kelly O'Sullivan and director Alex Thompson have made a deeply humane work about women who want to talk about important things happening in their lives, yet fear they'll be judged harshly if they do. A perfect storm brings them together, offering the opportunity to finally express those hidden emotions. Although weighty subjects are explored, the movie uses humor and insight to get at them, ensuring that it's as entertaining as it is poignant.
O'Sullivan plays Bridget, a thirtysomething restaurant server who can't shake the nagging feeling that she hasn't done much with her life. Two things change that quickly. The first is that she gets a summer job as the nanny to Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), the 6-year-old daughter of a same-sex couple. One of the moms, Maya (Charin Alvarez), clearly has post-partum depression after the birth of Frances' baby brother. The other, Annie (Lily Mojekwu), seems oddly disconnected from that fact.
The second significant thing is that Bridget becomes unintentionally pregnant after hooking up with a younger guy. She immediately decides to have an abortion. Rather than having it be over, though, she finds herself bleeding for weeks from the pills that chemically induced it. She's also got to deal with a not-quite-a-boyfriend who has a lot of post-abortion feelings that she doesn't share. The Wire's Jim True-Frost co-stars as a guitar teacher Bridget has a fling with as a reprieve from all the stress.
Saint Frances follows Bridget as her life changes from meeting the little girl and her mothers. Despite not being particularly wild about children, a bond forms with Frances. This isn't a stereotypical story about a kid-averse person who softens up after meeting an irresistible moppet. (Frances is, quite frankly, a handful.) Instead, the story is more about how Bridget learns to process her thoughts about the choice she made through the job. She knows she's not ready for parenthood, yet struggles with the idea that a lot of people would view her choice as wrong, even if it was right for her. Bridget develops awareness that, against her presumptions, an abortion isn't entirely over after it's done, because there are residual issues and the reactions of others still to come.
The movie has some terrific scenes between Bridget and Frances, but also between Bridget and Maya. The former is continually attempting to hide her bleeding, which is sometimes played for humor and sometimes played straight. The latter is (unsuccessfully) hiding her depression, because society expects new mothers to be happy. Both women sense a kindred spirit in one another. Neither opens up right away; they just sort of gradually slide into finding the commonality in their respective situations. Once that happens, they're able to finally speak their truths. Then comes a bombshell of a scene between Bridget and Annie that reveals how Annie's snippy demeanor is covering an insecurity of her own.
Saint Frances is pleasantly non-judgmental about its characters. The film has an empathetic quality that rings through loud and clear. At no point does it bluntly hammer the audience with any sort of message. A more potent approach is used: by showing how the characters repress what's going on inside, we realize how absurd it is that women are encouraged to keep silent on certain matters in the first place. Swallowing emotions isn't healthy. It negatively impacts relationships, friendships, and self-worth.
O'Sullivan is thoroughly winning in the lead role, and Ramona Edith Williams gives a stunningly good performance for a child her age. Saint Frances is often funny, especially in their interactions, because humor helps the story's themes ring louder. Odds are, you know people just like Bridget, Maya, Annie, and Frances. The movie asks the question, Have you really listened to them? Here is a film about characters who listen and find their lives immeasurably improved because of it.
This is a wonderful, touching picture about the healing properties of openness.
out of four
Saint Frances is unrated, but contains adult language, sexuality, and mature thematic content. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.