'Saint Frances' Review
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 inspect 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, whole cast's performances, tone
Frowneys: Nothing too bad
Much more beating up guitars than in rock shows these days, maybe just place it on the stand?