REVIEW: Saint Frances [2020]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 106 minutes
    Release Date: February 28th, 2020 (USA)
    Studio: Oscilloscope
    Director(s): Alex Thompson
    Writer(s): Kelly O’Sullivan

I apologize.

The grass is neither greener nor less green on the other side. Not at present. Whether you have money or not, own a house or not, have a family or not—everyone has problems. You might not be able to admit them to yourself yet (or admit they aren’t insurmountable), but they most definitely exist. So when a partygoer begins to tell Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) about a nightmare he had wherein everything he worked towards was gone, we know his smugly callous joke about committing fake suicide in response says more about how empty his life is with those things than about anyone who might actually be without. That’s not to say Bridget enjoys when the mirror turns to imply her entire existence is a failure, though.

No one would since living a so-called “failed life” already means not being allowed to enjoy his/her choices without also enduring a litany of people (friends and strangers alike) diverting their eyes with some weak excuse for placation that barely conceals their air of superiority for having followed the lemming-brained status quo of picket fences and two-and-a-half children instead. So rather than turn the tables back and laud the life she’s created for herself, Bridget retreats further into the role society has abandoned her in. She leans into her station as a middle-of-the-road thirty-something who’d rather lament what she lacks than acknowledge that others wish they had her modest means (apartment and restaurant serving job). She finds another pleb, takes him home, and confuses her happiness for settling.

But she is happy. Director Alex Thompson and O’Sullivan herself as screenwriter on top of lead actor responsibilities play fast and loose with how much time passes between that party and the phone call presenting Bridget with the summer nanny gig she didn’t think she’d get, but the character’s smile is undeniable. She obviously likes hanging out with Jace (Max Lipchitz) despite her forthcoming dismissals and he even appears to have moved into her apartment. Add the aforementioned job helping Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu) adjust to a new baby alongside six-year old Franny (Ramona Edith Williams) and things are looking stable. As many of you know, however, appearances are quite regularly deceiving. All it takes is a positive pregnancy test to reveal every single crack.

And that’s why the film is called Saint Frances rather than Saint Bridget. She isn’t some Mary Poppins type coming in to save the day as Maya battles post-partum and Annie wonders about failing her family. She’s not some kid-loving, magical MacGuffin that’s going to make everything all right considering she can barely keep her own head straight when adult decisions she’s kept at bay by “never having to worry about them before” arise. No. Bridget is the one who needs assistance. She’s the one who needs to continue being selfish and continue failing those around her who care with real emotion in order to recognize she cares too. It’s easier to be complacent and cavalier when you’re beholden to no one. It’s much different with Franny present.

There’s a point around halfway through, though, where I worried O’Sullivan was about to turn what had been a warts-and-all depiction of a woman trying to live her life amidst the bullshit everyone else threw upon her (Bridget is simultaneously a hero for never apologizing and a brutal narcissist I prayed Jace would leave to save himself) into a pro-motherhood propaganda piece. It happens about the time when Bridget starts to see Franny for the little take-no-prisoners sparkplug she is too—the kind of “cool” kid that could turn people who despise children (read: are overwhelmed by them) into thinking parenthood isn’t all bad. They commiserate over revenge and bond as figures providing mutual respite from their chaotic worlds. They supply each other a light through the darkness.

My worries were soon discovered unfounded thanks to a second half that O’Sullivan knocks out of the park as far as making good on the promises of every hardship introduced beforehand. Every joke from the past returns to the surface as a deep-seated yearning for self-validation. Every half-baked path towards a “better life” is exposed as the diversionary tactic it is (see a potential new love interest in Jim True-Frost‘s Isaac) while every impulsive reaction by Maya and Annie to something Bridget does proves a projection of their own troubles. What sparks the change? Communication. Rather than assuming what’s going on and/or assuming they could excise themselves from situations that don’t concern them, these women begin to provide each other the support Franny’s been giving from the start.

The result is equally heartfelt, profound, and still very, very funny. Thompson and O’Sullivan treat their audience with intelligence by commenting on specific truths via visual and/or verbal callbacks that don’t necessitate some grand confrontation to drive the point home—especially since those types of bow-tied moments rarely exist in reality anyway. Saint Frances isn’t therefore about finding answers as much as letting characters know they haven’t yet found them (and maybe never will). Does Bridget want kids? Is Maya a good mother? Is Annie a good wife? Maybe. Maybe. And maybe. That’s the one thing we do need: a certainty in our collective uncertainty. Too many people crave absolutes only to end up suffocating beneath them en route to tragic and depressing ends. Happiness demands wiggle room.

It’s that limited free space between society’s idea of success and your own that the film embodies. Both Alvarez and Mojekwu are revelatory in their emotional performances as mothers and partners traversing an entitled and bigoted world as gay parents while struggling to remember they must prevail over those battles every woman regardless of sexuality fights too. O’Sullivan is perfectly sardonic and unwavering in the choice to let Bridget’s expressions respond to situations with honesty even if her brain realizes the problems they will cause. And little Ramona is a scene-stealing delight who transcends precociousness to remain authentically hilarious, bratty, and wise beyond her years throughout. Her Franny becomes a lightning rod of clarity whose presence diffuses arguments and reveals hidden personal truths in others—a saint indeed.

courtesy of Oscilloscope

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