Saint Frances

 

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Chicago is the setting for this contemporary take on life which has a woman at its centre.

 
Saint Frances

Ramona Edith Williams and Kelly O'Sullivan

  

This is a film which brings with it a welcome touch of freshness. It is a feature debut for its director Alex Thompson and also for its star Kelly O'Sullivan in so far as it marks her first feature as a writer. Together and in perfect accord they give us a comedy of the kind that we associate with American independent cinema. Indeed, I was reminded of Andrew Bujalski's 2005 offering Mutual Appreciation with its mix of humour and believable embarrassment engagingly presented so as to invite us to identify with the characters. However, Saint Frances has its own individual voice and it's a contemporary one even if it does share several elements with Bujalski's film.

 

On paper Saint Frances suggests a work that might well be characterised by sentimentality. That's because of the story which it tells and which concerns a 34-year-old woman, Bridget, unsure of what she wants of herself and of life generally but certainly not keen to settle down and have a baby. Bored by her job as a waitress in a diner, she seeks a different post and, despite not being attracted to children, ends up being taken on unexpectedly by a couple who need a nanny for six-year-old Frances. Ultimately Bridget and the child will form a bond that will transform Bridget's outlook on life. Given that outcome, one might well imagine - quite incorrectly as it turns out - that this is a film akin to something that the Disney studios might have made fifty or more years ago.

 

The secret of this movie's appeal lies in part in its ability to surprise the audience and for this reason I will withhold here details about such matters as an important choice that Bridget has to make and about the couple who employ her. What I will say, however, is that Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams) is a forthright child capable of getting Bridget into trouble and thus far removed from the sweet little girl she might have been and doubtless would have been for Disney. Because it is a feature of the film that has been much remarked on, I can also add that Saint Frances doesn't hesitate to incorporate footage early on showing menstrual blood. Making mention of that enables me to point out that it is not done as a tasteless example of cutting edge comedy but in line with the frankness that the film brings to other issues reflecting today's society. Altogether it's an approach which will have many audiences, and not least women, admiring it.

 

Saint Frances has Bridget at its centre and Kelly O'Sullivan is perfectly cast in this role. The quality of her acting makes Bridget a wholly believable character, but equally striking is the way in which O'Sullivan's personality is so intensely engaging: this ensures that the viewer's sympathy is maintained even when Bridget behaves badly. Another key character is the somewhat younger man, Jace, who takes up with Bridget and in this role Max Lipchitz is an ideal partner for O'Sullivan so well matched are their performances. If they delight us, so does the upturning time and again of our expectations regarding the narrative. But, in contrast to that, the film's second half finds it turning more and more into the conventional piece that it had seemed anxious to avoid. The writing falls short in giving enough depth to the switch to make it seem touching and true to life and even a few sentimental touches rise to the surface. In short, Saint Frances is another of those films that is far more satisfying in its first half than in its second, but at its best it is very pleasing and O'Sullivan, Lipchitz and Thompson are all names well worth noting.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kelly O'Sullivan, Ramona Edith-Williams, Charin Alvarez, Lily Mojekwu, Max Lipchitz, Jim True-Frost, Mary Beth Fisher, Francis Guinan, Rebekah Ward, Danny Catlow, Rebecca Spence, Rebecca Buller.

 

Dir Alex Thompson, Pro James Choi, Pierce Cravens, Ian Keiser, Eddie Linker, Raphael Nash, Alex Thompson and Roger Welp, Screenplay Kelly O'Sullivan, Ph Nate Hurtsellers, Pro Des Maggie O'Brien, Ed Alex Thompson, M Qulan Tsan.

 

Easy Open Productions/Metropolitan Entertainment/Visit Films-Vertigo Films.
98 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 24 July 2020. Cert. 15.