This review is brought to you in partnership with our friends at Vertigo Releasing
While the thematic base of Alex Thompson’s debut feature film ‘Saint Frances’ may sit within the familiar territory of thirty-something disillusionment. His film transcends the usual comedy/drama tropes of the subject, by embracing a frank, honest and loving exploration of the female experience. Layering this with a brave and cutting dissection of modern neoconservative beliefs. Ensuring more than a few Trump supporters will collectively spit their popcorn at the screen in disgust. Ultimately this ensures Saint Frances walks a different road to any similar films. Dovetailing the female experience, liberalism, and belonging within a stunning screenplay from Kelly O’Sullivan. Who also plays the lead character of Bridget, a 34-year-old Chicago waitress.
Like many people in their mid-thirties, Bridget finds herself caught between the freedom of her disappearing youth and the need to find something new. The adventure and excitement of her twenties now fading in a sea of disappointment and disillusionment. Where jobs offer no stimulation, education is a mere memory, and relationships remain trapped in a student haze. However, Bridget sees a potential escape in the form of a summer job as a nanny to five-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). While Frances’ two mums Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu) deal with stresses and strains of a newborn baby. Their busy lives desperately needing support in a summer leading to Frances’ first days at school.
However, Bridget’s lack of experience and aversion to children initially rules her out, until that is the situation quickly becomes vacant once more. Opening the door to a whole lot of hard work in building a trusting relationship with young Frances.
Meanwhile, Bridget’s life hits a roadblock as she finds herself pregnant with her casual and caring boyfriend (Max Lipchitz). An event that quickly leads her to seek an abortion with his support. Her outward confidence hiding the magnitude of her decision, while her partner tries to encourage some emotional expression; only to be quickly shut down. But as Bridget throws herself into caring for young Frances, cracks begin to show in Bridget’s relationship with her boyfriend. While Maya struggles to relate to her newborn son, showing all the signs of postnatal depression.
Leading Bridget to not only deal with her own relationship problems and need for escape, but also the strains of family life with Maya and Annie. Young Frances becoming her sole consort and support in a growing relationship of both trust and love. One where a newfound bond ultimately holds the keys to family recovery, and individual belonging.
There is a raw honesty on display in Saint Frances, one that isn’t afraid to push controversial social buttons in generating conversation. While equally working alongside a narrative that doesn’t fear occasionally alienating the viewer, allowing them to freely search and question their feelings for Bridget and her actions. In turn, reflecting the challenging decisions we all make in our lives; many of which others will find disagreeable. However, this is also embedded in a journey exuding love and discovery. One that talks to the female experience in a way many other films fail to achieve. While equally playing with genre boundaries, in taking the audience from laugh out loud comedy to emotion in a single scene.
But the genius of Saint Frances sits within its ability to challenge a cinematic landscape where male stories continue to dominate comedy/drama. Providing us with a delightful tonic, that ensures the female experience sits central to every scene; continuing to smash the glass ceiling of female representation alongside other films such as Eighth Grade and Booksmart. While equally being unafraid to frankly and honestly deal with postnatal depression, menstruation, abortion, and motherhood.
Ultimately this leads to a fresh, creative, and engaging film, that isn’t afraid to challenge. Its core themes not only reflecting the dead-end that often appears in our mid-thirties. But equally challenging the roots of this disillusionment and the personal need to find meaning and rebirth. In a sublime screenplay that is only strengthened by performances full of sincerity and heart. Within a film that grabs you tight in a sea of comedy, emotion, and love and doesn’t let go.
Director: Alex Thompson
Saint Frances will be released in cinemas nationwide from July 2020.