SAINT FRANCES: FILM REVIEW
I came into Saint Frances a bit weary because I assumed it would be a prestigious indie film that highlights white woman complexes. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at the casualty in which Saint Frances encapsulated the low and high tides of womanhood -- of being told that your emotions and experiences are not valid, and thus, always being wary to really express them. Saint Frances is graceful in its presence, as it uses humour and a subtle build-up of suppressed tension to project the internal struggles that women face and normalize for themselves.
Written by Kelly O’Sullivan and directed by Alex Thompson, Saint Frances revolves around Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), a 34-year-old woman who is very much at a place in her life where she feels as if everyone is moving in some direction but her. However, the directions that people are moving in (building a family, having children, landing a nice career), aren’t necessarily things that Bridget wants, but more so things she is expected to want. We are introduced to Bridget at a party, where she is in conversation with a man who is projecting all his insecurities on her. Bridget interrupts to say that she’s a 34-year-old server, causing the man to awkwardly leave. That same night, she hooks up with a younger man at the party named Jace (Max Lipchitz), and soon after, realizes she’s pregnant with their baby. Simultaneously, she takes on a new job babysitting six-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), the daughter of Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojeksu), a mixed-race lesbian couple. Although Bridget clashes with Frances at first, the two develop a mutual love for one another, largely built on the foundation of their inner child.
At the heart of the film lies the relationship between Bridget and Frances. The conflict between Frances’ parents, Maya and Annie, is not lost on her, even at such a young age. As much as we’d like to believe in the naivety of children, their wide-eyes often take in more than our own. Maya is suffering from postpartum depression after birthing Frances’ baby brother, while Annie works all day as a lawyer. Although Maya and Annie still have deep love for each other, the growing tension between them builds and eventually becomes too exhausting to hide. All Frances and Bridget can do is take in the world as it is and try to navigate the effects of others’ trauma on their own lives.
A pivotal plot point in the film comes when Bridget decides to have an abortion. There is a distinction in that the decision itself is not a pivotal moment for Bridget, but rather acts as a point of conflict for Bridget’s expectations of herself and those of others. Bridget’s decision to have an abortion is quite casual -- no questions asked. However, Jace expects an emotional dissection of Bridgets’ feelings towards the abortion, which she refuses, time and time again. Why is someone else expecting her to have a specific reaction? Bridget’s refusal to unpack her feelings leads Jace to think that there’s something wrong with her, even though Bridget’s reaction is completely valid. Equally as valid is a scene later in the film, where Bridget has a breakdown in front of Maya, finally confronting her abortion face to face. This duality reveals the complex nature of womanhood and the naivety that comes with looking at someone else’s experience with a judgmental eye.
Visually, the film also does an excellent job of dispelling society’s continued “taboos'' towards women, whether it’s public breastfeeding or menstrual blood. For the latter, the next morning after Bridget has sex with Jason, the two find Bridget’s menstrual blood on the sheets and splotches on their faces. The two laugh about it, distilling the tension that a certain type of audience might feel. Even though it’s 2020, this visualization of period blood would usually shy away from the screen. However, in Saint Frances, the viewer cannot avoid looking at Bridget’s period blood, a sight that should have been normalized in media much longer ago.
Saint Frances is comforting in that it is nonjudgemental. The film refuses to criticize the reactions of others, the challenges faced by a couple grappling with building a new family, or a woman who isn’t exactly going through a midlife crisis, but feels like she should be. The transparency which O’Sullivan presents these issues is surprisingly refreshing, and begs the audience to bring a more empathetic eye to the way we look at ourselves and others.