Director: Alex Thompson
Writer: Kelly O’Sullivan
Starring: Kelly O’Sullivan, Charin Alvarez, Braden Crothers
Genre: Comedy / Drama
After an accidental pregnancy and subsequent abortion, 34 year old Bridget (O’Sullivan) takes a job looking after a six year old named Frances (Ramona Edith Williams) and in doing so, the two of them develop an unlikely friendship which surprisingly helps Bridget both confront and deal with the issues in her life.
I think it is fair to say that most of us that are in our 30s feel a certain (if not total) disappointment with regard to what we have achieved with our lives so far, especially as the mark of success seems to involve being married, having kids, owning your own home etc. Kelly O’Sullivan’s protagonist in Saint Frances is very much your typical 30 something that feels quite content with who she is, but yet society brands her a complete failure because she has not achieved these things.
From start to finish O’Sullivan’s taboo busting script is an intelligent, witty and poignant examination of the narrow minded views of society not only towards the ‘minority’ groups (whether that be race or sexuality) but also how those of us that are supposedly the majority are still expected to conform to a certain trajectory in life, and if we divert from this supposedly accepted trajectory we are automatically brandished as failures.
It is this openness to the script that immediately provides not only a relatable protagonist, but also a narrative filled to the brim with relatable and bittersweet moments that are equally observational and humorous. There are often irreverent and brutally honest discussions between characters about the situations they find themselves in (abortion is one of the main themes), and this undoubtedly adds a very human (and therefore highly relatable) element to the narrative developments – and there are certainly plenty of humorous observations at life’s absurdity’s that we can all relate to. Likewise, every character in the narrative demonstrates flaws and makes some seemingly bad decisions, but none of these decisions ever appear lazy and just there at the narrative’s convenience, which adds a truly authentic nature to the entire narrative.
While the narrative trajectory of Bridget’s relationship with Frances may well be quite predictable, just like another film I saw at the cinema recently (Summerland), the freshness in O’Sullivan’s script means that this is merely used to depict the film’s many observational and relatable themes, and it is done so to maximum effect. Humour can of course be found in any of the tragic or absurd situations that life creates if done appropriately, and Kelly O’Sullivan depicts this perfectly in her script. Of course, as a man I cannot pretend to be able to completely relate to all of the film’s themes, but the inclusive and observationally comic nature of the script does allow me to empathise with some of the female protagonist’s experiences that are uniquely female. While some of the other developments can certainly be understood and felt by all – the script not only examines skilfully the main elements of the narrative, but subplots that may seem inconsequential in lesser films, but here make up the attributes of our protagonist.
At the heart of the story is a superb central performance by Kelly O’Sullivan; sometimes actors and directors seem to realise each other’s visions, well in this case the main actor also wrote the script, and this most certainly helps as O’Sullivan knows exactly what each nuance or subtle observation of the script means and is trying to depict – and for me this only enhances the engagement of the film. Her protagonist is far from perfect (and appropriately so), and she often criticises her younger (sort of) boyfriend for being an oversensitive and immature millennial, yet some of her actions are those of someone in their early twenties. When he points out to her that she is also technically a millennial, her only argument in response is that she is ‘on the cusp’. However, it is not just the protagonist that has an arc, as plenty of the other well written characters (such as Frances’ same-sex parents) within the narrative also have very satisfying arcs that just add to the depth of the film.
As the film enters its final third a lot of the plot strands do inevitably tie up quite neatly and there is an element of contrivance that would certainly be extremely unlikely in real life, but this is of course a film, so an element of that is forgivable as we cannot help but care about the characters. The script is also not afraid to incorporate some topical issues within its narrative, but these are thankfully never presented in a preachy or patronising way, and instead are often natural elements of the nuances and subtleties of its wonderful and incredibly sharp and observational script, and the result is a deeply engaging film that viewers of any age can relate to.
Though it may feature at its very centre a predictable narrative trajectory, thanks to a wonderful script that incorporates many timely and inclusive themes, Saint Frances is a wonderfully engaging, deeply moving and often wonderfully humorous experience.