Saint Frances is self-assured, unapologetic and, frankly, hilarious. A welcome reminder that, whoever you are, you’re doing just fine.
Saint Frances approaches a multitude of sensitive issues with honesty and grace. This film is a near perfect illustration of life’s chequered tapestry, and the beauty to be found in small things (and small people). In the corner of a disappointing party, facing the question we’d all rather not hear; “so what are you doing with your life?” we meet Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan). From an alcohol induced one-night stand, to being forced to confront her understanding of herself, and her place in the world, Bridget goes on one hell of an inner journey. Her unlikely mentor being six-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), a tiny powerhouse of energy and honesty, whom Bridget nannies for the summer.
St Frances opens with a drunk guy (who clearly hates his life) assuring Bridget (who definitely did not ask) that it’s okay that she’s “just a server” because she’s “in her twenties”; she bluntly corrects him, she’s thirty-four. From the outset, the film is a true illustration of the realities of the world. An assured non-conformity to this weird, socially imposed timeline of it being fine to be totally directionless at twenty-nine, but god forbid you don’t have it all together once you hit thirty. Which is completely untrue, by the way. You’re 45 with no idea what you’re doing? So is everyone else, my friend, some are just better at faking it.
The film is a wonderful melting pot of all walks of life. Frances’s parents, Maya (Charin Alvarez, who it has to be said, gives a stunning performance) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), illustrate the challenges of raising an interracial family as a lesbian couple in American suburbia. Bridget’s mother (Mary Beth Fisher) acts as a presentation of a generational gap. Carol highlights the unsolicited pressure placed on women to hurry up and settle down, playing into the traditionalist narrative of women being defined by their maternal role, as the film brilliantly puts it, “a bare boobed, unshowered, perpetually crying, milk machine”. However, Carol also sheds light on how common post-natal depression is and how women “should talk about it more”. Acting as a both a progressive and oppressive character, Carol is a masterful illustration of the mentalities of a modernising and, often confused, society.
It’s all very period heavy. Literally. From a messy, unexpected period, to (spoiler alert) undergoing an abortion after an unwanted pregnancy, Bridget’s bleeding is repeatedly addressed throughout the film. A symbol of vulnerability, the disproportionate struggles faced by women in society and an illustration of Bridget’s unresolved feelings following the abortion, the graphically honest presentation of the female existence is refreshing and unapologetic. Female sexual autonomy is a theme very present within Saint Frances. From the expectation that women take birth control to serve male preference, as so blatantly illustrated by Isaac (Jim True-Frost), and the inherent unfairness of biology, Bridget expresses her frustrations to Jace (Max Lipchitz) that, though he supported her, “he didn’t have to go through it, not really”.
The abortion in the film really made me check myself as a viewer, and perhaps it will make you do so too. I read the synopsis of the film which mentions a nanny, caring for an incredible little girl who is then hit with an unexpected pregnancy. I assumed that she would have the baby and the film would be an uplifting exploration of how six-year-old Frances, would help Bridget come to terms with motherhood. But Bridget doesn’t have the baby, she didn’t even consider it, and (spoiler alert) she doesn’t regret it, she is only disappointed by how society views abortions and female sexual autonomy more generally, a view I have subconsciously perpetuated myself in my expectations of the film. I doubt I’m alone in this, there’s work to be done here.
Frances herself undoubtedly steals the show. The honesty of a child’s view, a view not predisposed to prejudice or social conformities, helps Bridget to heal. Saint Frances subtly addresses the importance of belief systems, Maya’s Catholicism is a clear indication of this. However, as Bridget tells Frances, “You can have faith in people too”. France’s faith in Bridget and vice versa allow both characters to grow. In a beautifully moving scene following the christening of Frances’ new-born brother, Frances and Bridget sit in a confession box, Frances taking the place of the Priest. Frances asks Bridget why she lies so much, and, when Bridget replies that it’s sometimes easier to be someone else, someone who fits in to societal ideals of success, Frances challenges her, asking why she has to have those things. Upon reflection, Bridget admits she wants people to be proud of her and, (be warned, you will cry) Frances tells Bridget she is proud of her “because you try even when you’re scared”.
Saint Frances is a brilliantly funny, tear inducing, uplifting illustration of modern life. Audiences are reminded to channel their inner Frances and remember, “I’m smart, I’m brave, I’m the coolest”.
Saint Frances premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival At Home, and will be available to watch from 10 July on iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google, BT, Microsoft and Curzon Home Cinema.