Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) needs a lot of things. She needs a new job. She needs an abortion. But most of all, she needs a friend. “Saint Frances,” written by O’Sullivan and directed by Alex Thompson in his feature debut, is the story of Bridget finding the very friend she needs in the most unexpected of packages, a precocious 6-year-old named Franny (Ramona Edith Williams).
This utterly poignant and beautiful tale of human connection opens with a frank discussion of post-coital menstrual blood, a topic that is rarely broached in polite conversation despite the commonality of its occurrence. Bringing these taboo, specifically feminine experiences out into the open is the intention of “Saint Frances,” which tackles relationships, sex, abortion, birth, postpartum depression and homophobia with an unflinching grace.
The authentic sense of goofy grace is offered up in spades by the adorable Franny, whom Bridget is hired to nanny over the course of one summer, while Franny’s mothers, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), tend to their newborn, Wally, and a demanding career, respectively. At 34, Bridget is a bit old for the gig, but it’s a lifeline out of her dead-end waitressing job, and it’s life-changing in ways she’d never anticipate.
Within Maya and Annie’s home, Bridget eventually finds a loving matriarchy. Although it’s not without its misunderstandings, foibles and dark moments, it’s a stark contrast to the world of condescending men her own age, needy men much younger than her and older men with ulterior motives. After falling into bed with the sensitive Jace (Max Lipchitz), Bridget ends up pregnant and decides to terminate the pregnancy with the abortion pill, the physical aftereffects of which color her entire summer with Franny.
Guided by O’Sullivan’s singular writerly voice and her performance, the sweetly frank “Saint Frances” joins Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” in a canon of sorts: gently realistic feminist films that deal with the realities of abortion with humor and honesty, addressing all the messiness, emotional and otherwise, that comes with this choice.
Anchored by delicately moving performances, especially by the amazing Williams, and O’Sullivan, “Saint Frances” is a quietly riveting film that slowly but surely draws you in. Through Franny, Bridget connects with Maya and Annie, and most importantly, she connects with herself as an advocate, protector and friend to others (and, most importantly, to herself).
What emerges from the story of one complex, confused and floundering woman who finds a kid for her even if she isn’t sure she wants a kid, is a gem of a tale about letting oneself truly connect to another, even if that other person is 28 years younger than you. Franny becomes Bridget’s closest confidante and the person who offers the only validation she’s received in a long time.
“I’m proud of you,” Franny says, “You try even when you’re scared.” There’s a gravity to that simple statement for adults who have been through the worst. That even if we’re scared, the most important thing you can do is to try. It’s a bittersweet and beautiful reminder about being brave and having the friends to back you up in that bravery when you need it.
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