Quick Reviews: 'Saint Frances', 'Come Play' | You Never Know What Kids Bring With Them
Maybe it wouldn't count as a single year of cinema if there wasn't always at least one lowkey indie pick as one of the best of the year and 2020 certainly took its sweet time to reveal that pick. Saint Frances, which is directed and edited by Alex Thompson as well as written by and starring Kelly O'Sullivan, both making their feature film debuts, takes that spot on the list by pure charm and honest sweetness. O'Sullivan plays Bridget, a 34-year-old waitress who one day ends up getting a job offer to work as a nanny to a 6-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams) whose parents are Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu). This coalesces with Bridget unintentionally becoming pregnant and deciding on abortion. The willingness to ground the film's highlights to the level of an indie budget is what makes it stand out, focusing on what's important paves the way for a piece that reveals its layers one by one.
It'd be pretty easy for any movie in general but dramas especially to make the juxtaposition of Bridget's abortion and nannying a small girl to create the conflict which would then drive the plot. That's way too often the case as you'd then expect Bridget to second-guess her decision to abort. However this time the conflicts create the juxtaposition, that's why the drama presented is honest and comes from a real place, accentuated by O'Sullivan writing for herself. The script and its 100 minutes of story examine this woman's self-identity which is on the opposite side of society's ''expectation'' where a 34-year-old ''should'' have everything in balance, including her career, romantic relationship and prospect of children. The way Saint Frances dismantles that expectation through Bridget is a sign that the film knows its limits (budgetary and scope) and plays to its strengths; character, story and subject matter.
The movie doesn't need the cast or supporting characters to be greater than to be impactful so it must be recognised that they still manage to be. Saint Frances shows a lot of truly normal stuff that often isn't featured in films for some reason. Maya for instance has postnatal depression as she and Annie also have a new baby in addition to Frances, Annie doesn't feel like she's doing a good job supporting her family and together they have marital issues.
The film looks at womanhood through different lenses which makes each character grow even more scene by scene. Edith-Williams is mighty funny and natural for a kid actor and plays well with the adults, one scene that deserves a special mention is where Frances and Bridget are in a confession booth, Bridget is confessing while Frances plays God. For a child that just seems like play but for an adult it's a conversation where you are not judged, just like Bridget doesn't cast judgement on her own decision to abort her pregnancy. Saint Frances listens and responds, it doesn't create a shouting match just to be loud.
Smileys: Story, screenplay, characterisation, performance by a cast, tone
Frowneys: Nothing too bad
Much more beating up guitars than in rock shows these days, maybe just place it on the stand?
Guess it's once again time for some studio horror where the main monster resembles to be something straight out of a creepypasta thread or it actually is just that (we're looking at you 'Slender Man') and combining that with your usual underlit house of a distraught family.
Come Play invites you in with its dapper title where you meet the family; mom Sarah (Gillian Jacobs), dad Marty (John Gallagher Jr.) and their young boy Oliver (Azhy Robertson) who is non-verbal autistic, going through speech therapy and watching a lot of 'SpongeBob SquarePants' whenever he can. Oliver's life requires a lot of screen time for both practicality (he communicates through a speech-maker app) and comfort but one day his phone seems to get taken over by something supernatural, that's how we get a horror movie out of this. That horror movie is so vehemently irritating because it wastes a good, heartfelt premise just to show off a bunch of studio notes that get more intrusive every five minutes.
In the beginning, Come Play does play its PG-13 horror cards right and doesn't unnecessarily dumb down the people like others often do. Instead it really focuses on Oliver, being very lowkey with the way his journey with autism is introduced to viewers; his stimming, social struggles at school and how he doesn't look at Sarah into her eyes. The film really puts the technological and creepypasta aspects on the back-burner at right moments and uses that time to build up the real story that's available which touches on connection even beyond neurodiversity, in this case with parents and friends.
Robertson as a child actor is tasked with a lot ( he is apparently not on the autism spectrum) here because with bad direction and preparation, the performance could easily turn into mockery. Thankfully the result looks to be somewhat realistic, graceful and purposeful as Oliver is truly capable and relatable for kids, getting us to care about the character is always what drives the story.
About 20 minutes in though the movie around the characters throws away the purpose. Horror more than any genre lives and dies by its suspense-release format and creating an atmosphere that draws you in, with Come Play those are continuously disappointing. Director-writer Jacob Chase's script lacks any sort of personality in that department as the suspense is never established before a spooky sound effect is supposed to release the scare and keep up the tension.
The movie overall looks and sounds decent but the screenplay plays out like a shape that has been moulded by studio notes as there is just no ambition to be found. What do you have to say other than ''screens bad''? What do you want to show us for the first time? Those are important questions about filmmaking that never get answered here. Even the monster's design and reveal are botched but honestly, after 12 hours I couldn't even remember what it looked like. You're asked to come play but maybe just watch SpongeBob instead.
Smileys: Premise, Azhy Robertson
Frowneys: Screenplay, originality, character design
Foul play with the way this fumbles the bag.