Alex Thompson directs Saint Frances, an impressive showcase for writer and lead actress Kelly O’Sullivan. This is a gentle and intimate watch that tackles female identify intertwined with millennial life in flux, carried by an absorbing performance from its lead actress. Whilst enjoyably progressive in the themes it tackles, Saint Frances occasionally feels too slight and unassuming for its own good.
Bridget (O’Sullivan) is a flailing thirty-four year old who finds some direction in her life when she meets a nice younger guy Jace (Max Lipchitz) and gains a job as nanny to six-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams). Bridget is met with further challenges dealing with the obstinate Frances and navigating her through the tensions of her two mothers’ relationship.
With a strong female voice at its core – Saint Frances explores the insecurities and realities of female life. Opening with Bridget leaving red blotches on the bed sheets after a sexual encounter with Jace – Saint Frances puts authentic characters on display – without trying to cover the realities of human life with a Hollywood gloss. This is a film proud enough to centre on a character who is unclear about the direction she is going – she is presented with a relationship with a nice guy, yet feels uncertain about this, she’s given a job as a nanny, yet is somewhat unqualified to do this job. Yet O’Sullivan sets the stage for Bridget’s personal growth as the narrative progresses.
The relationship between Bridget and Frances is the beating heart of Thompson’s film. Whilst the obstinate Frances initially seeks to make Bridget’s life harder – hiding her sanitary products and claiming to be kidnapped by her new nanny, the two develop a tight bond – particularly as Bridget begins to become aware of the struggling relationship between Frances’s mothers. Both actresses approach the friendship with a sense of natural conviction, free of garish overwrought sentiment – instead packing their roles with a gentle, natural humour. This friendship with Frances begins to steer Bridget’s life in a purposeful direction as she grows into an essential role in the six year old’s family.
Saint Frances tackles socially progressive themes in a pleasingly natural manner also – Frances is the daughter of lesbian mothers – this is not an essential plot point, but paves the way for some enjoyable powerful moments, such as an encounter with an aggressive mother in the park who accosts Maya (Frances’ mother) for breastfeeding in public. Yet not all the narrative developments feel as necessary – an affair between Bridget and a guitar instructor does little service for the narrative or character development, only making proceedings feel slightly uneven.
Saint Frances is a gentle, quietly engaging watch that provides an impressive showcase for writer and lead Kelly O’Sullivan. It is incredibly human and touching in the sweet building relationship between Bridget and Frances.
The film is released more widely on 10 July on: iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google, BT, Microsoft, and Curzon Home Cinema.