Review: Saint Frances

Not to sound like a broken record, but here’s another Amerindie sub-genre: Rudderless twenty- or thirty-something bonds with young child who is not their issue and learns about life in the process. Alex Thompson’s Saint Frances, written by Kelly O’Sullivan, who also stars as the aimless protagonist, Bridget, supplies all the expected cliches, but what’s disarming about it is its rushed, almost off-handed manner, as if it wanted to get all the cliches out of the way quickly. So by the time Bridget decides to terminate an unexpected pregnancy in an almost enthusiastic manner (“I’m for sure getting rid of it”), most of what passes for character development and scene-setting has been dealt with. And while the film’s attitude toward abortion itself is realistic, it’s how O’Sullivan incorporates Bridget’s experience into her subsequent gig as a nanny that makes a difference. Having been conditioned by previous examples of the aforementioned sub-genre to expect Bridget’s relationship with her tritely precocious 6-year-old charge, Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), to lead to a new appreciation of her potential to be a mother, I found what actually transpired to be unusual—and unusually moving. 

Bridget’s situation is neatly presented in the first scene, when, at a party, a male interlocutor tells her about a dream in which he despaired that he had been a loser before 30, and then Bridget reveals that she herself, a college graduate, is 34 and still waitressing. Eventually, a hookup with a different man results in the unexpected pregnancy, but Jace’s (Max Lipschitz) willingness to help, with not only the cost of the abortion but whatever emotional support she might need, throws Bridget off balance, which isn’t to say she doesn’t trust men, but rather she doesn’t know what to do with them. In any event, she continues to bleed profusely after the procedure, a leitmotif that becomes a running joke.

Contacted by a friend who cannot take a nanny job because of her own maternal situation, Bridget jumps at the offer simply because she’s tired of waitressing. Her new employers are a lesbian couple who live in a upscale suburb of Chicago and have just delivered their second child. One of the women is a successful lawyer while the other, the birth mother of the new child, is suffering from post-partum depression, thus their need for a nanny over the summer until their older daughter, Frances, starts first grade.

The resulting interrelationships are not what you might expect even if many scenes follow a predictable pattern. Frances is a handful, but what’s interesting about Bridget’s overcoming the little girl’s rebellious streak is how she does so in contrast to the side elements of the story—her poor choice of romantic partners (not Jace, who she doesn’t take seriously at first) and her avoidance of her own past, including her mother and old friends who are quick to judge her lack of gumption. In the end, her bonding with Frances has less to do with some idea of a maternal instinct and more with a sense of purpose that she had never really felt before. Saint Frances isn’t ground-breaking, but it navigates its special landscape with intelligence and real humor. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905).

Saint Frances home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 Saint Frances LLC

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