119 days after my last cinema trip, I was finally released from the cinema-free hellscape of 2020. With minimal new releases to show, Odeon have tentatively reopened their doors with a wide array of re-releases from early 2020 successes like Onward and 1917 (remember the relative normality of January-February?) to classics of a bygone era like the Original Star Wars trilogy. Credit where its due, while the Covid-19 cinema experience is vastly different to what we’re used to, I was impressed with the organisation and cleanliness on show from the Odeon team and it made my sanitised and masked cinema trip as pleasant as humanly possible. I arrived early as I ventured into the unknown and I could pick my seat to be as socially distant as possible, and just like that, I was home.
If there’s any benefit to this abnormal summer season cinematic wasteland it’s the chance for films that likely would never have a cinema run in a West Midlands multiplex to have one. Enter Saint Frances.
Written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, Saint Frances follows 34-year-old singleton Bridget and her tumultuous summer working as a nanny for an affluent family. Charged with taking care of the titular, sassy Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), Bridget deals with the aftermath of an accidental pregnancy and subsequent abortion all the while ensuring this tiny and vibrant 6-year-old stays on track.
I wouldn’t say Bridget was an arsehole upon our first introduction, but she certainly progresses through life at her own pace with little to no regard for the safety of herself or others. The beautiful cinematography, shot by Nate Hurtsellers, echoes this sentiment as every shot of Bridget has an incredibly shallow depth of field; everything around Bridget is blurred, alluding to her generally self-centred way of life up to now, failing to take in how her actions impact those around her. We see her texting while driving and almost getting into a car accident, answering her phone while filling her car with petrol, and has sworn by the no-protection pull out method of birth control for her entire life. It’s no surprise that that last one haunts her decision making early on, but instantly this scene warms us to both her, her one-night stand, and Saint Frances’ entire vibe.
Having a wholesome “you have my period blood on your face” sequence within the first 10 minutes of a film about a nanny to a 6-year-old is a bold choice, but the scene plays out so effortlessly naturally that it won me over completely. It’s the kind of taboo-busting moment we’ve seen in pop culture recently, too, as it became a national talking point with the BBC comedy-drama I May Destroy You, and this scene in Saint Frances is no different as it normalises the moment completely. Jace, Bridget’s slightly over-bearing but heart-in-the-right-place paramour (Max Lipchitz), handles the situation as well as she could’ve hoped for. Their casual discussion about the literal mess they’re both in lays the foundation for this budding, sweet little relationship.
It was at this point that I suddenly couldn’t take my eyes off Kelly O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan clearly has a deep understanding of Bridget and delivers a natural and believable performance, flaws and all. Crucially, Bridget doesn’t feel like a character, she feels real, she makes mistakes and deals with them in her own unique way. In her time as Frances’ nanny, she does absolutely everything to convince you that she shouldn’t be this little girl’s minder. She abandons her in the middle of a library to text a boy and she pushes a game too far and inadvertently launches Frances out of her pram. And yet, as Bridget and Frances get to know each other, Bridget’s unconventional approach is what warms Frances to her, and their disorderly relationship culminates in a genuine mutual respect. In a late confession scene, no doubt where the film’s title most obviously comes into play, Bridget confessing her sins to Frances – of which there are many – is a heart-warming sequence and summarises how important these two somewhat lost souls are to each other.
Ramona Edith-Williams also emerges as a little star in the making. Not since Brooklynn Prince in the divine The Florida Project have I been so impressed by such a young actress, though much of her characterisation is also attested to O’Sullivan’s gorgeous script. Edith-Williams is able to convey exactly what kind of household she’s growing up in through her mannerisms and various all-too-mature turns of phrase about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century and criticising the patriarchy of her guitar class. Frances starts cold but when she warms to Bridget is where Edith-Williams really shines with her infectiously adorable laughter, brutal honesty, and gives Bridget a beautiful little pep talk with a line as simple as “you try even when you’re scared.” Wise beyond her years, Frances is the moral centre Bridget didn’t know she needed.
Saint Frances casts a vicious eye over womanhood in 2020 with some stand-out sequence intent on raising awareness of some of society’s most egregious prejudices. Not only does it address period sex with both positive and negative experiences (shout out to Jim “Prez” True-Frost’s slimy guitar teacher Isaac), it’s firmly a film set in the modern day with Black Lives Matter signs in front yards, Unborn Lives Matter fridge stickers, and a Karen unhappy with Maya (Charin Alvarez) breastfeeding her new born son in the park. This park scene was fabulously performed from its main players, where Bridget was ready to raise hell for a fellow-mother disparaging Maya, Maya steps in and calmly diffuses the argument with grace and authority, giving Maya a much needed win having struggled with postnatal depression for much of the summer. Even Frances steps up to the plate and reminds everyone that “hate has no place here,” a lesson Frances learned from her home’s strategically placed front door sticker.
Saint Frances would make a fabulous triple bill alongside Juno and Tully. All three have similar sensibilities, have important things to say about being a woman in the 21st century, and all three are bitingly funny. Upon meeting a former university friend’s son, who introduces himself by pretending to shoot her as she walks through the door, hilariously asks “who’s the active shooter?” in a risqué joke that summarises exactly the kind of person Bridget is; she’s unashamedly herself and will not change a thing about herself. Equally, those Real Talk conversations she’s forced into with Jace are as natural as they are hilarious as they weirdly compliment each other’s sperm and eggs for their hyper effectiveness before diving into the dreaded abortion chat.
As summer draws to a close and you witness just how far these relationships have come, the emotion of it all comes to the fore for everyone, from Bridget to Maya to Annie to Frances, and the final 5-10 minutes or so of the film is a gorgeously bittersweet denouement. This summer couldn’t last forever, but the friendships formed will hopefully last forever. Only those with hearts of stone will leave Saint Frances’ final scene without at least one tear rolling down their cheek.
Effortlessly real and charming, Saint Frances is an absolute winner. Bridget wins you over very quickly and you will be as frustrated with her as much as you’ll absolutely adore her by the film’s end, our titular saint is a scene-stealer from beginning to end, and the screenplay is as clever as it is witty. Saint Frances made crossing the cinematic wasteland worth it.
Directed by: Alex Thompson
Written by: Kelly O’Sullivan
Cast: Kelly O’Sullivan, Charin Alvarez, Braden Crothers