‘Saint Frances’ both unapologetic and sweet with sensitive subject matter

Kelly O’Sullivan writes and stars in the personal, touching Saint Frances, the story of a 26-year-old nanny in an affluent Chicago neighborhood who lives with the physical and emotional aftermath of having an abortion – and the six-year-old friend that gets her through. (4/5)

Review by Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Bridget is directionless. A creative writing dropout of Northwestern University, the 26-year-old has little money and little to show for her love life – except an unwanted pregnancy. In a statement unlike most films or television shows where the decision to keep or abort a pregnancy is traumatic, this decision is somewhat easy for Bridget. 

The complicated, emotional aftermath only weighs on her when she accepts a job as a nanny to Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), a rambunctious six-year-old living with her two mothers in the wealthy northern suburbs of Chicago. Juxtaposed to her small one-bedroom apartment in Uptown, Bridget is thrust into the world of suburban motherhood and all that comes with it. One mother is berated in a neighborhood park for breastfeeding her newborn baby while her wife deals with her own insecurities, making Bridget an awkward bystander in their troubled marriage. There’s mental health issues, religious issues, relationship issues and how they affect children – both the actual child, Frances, and the-child-at-heart, Bridget.

The bulk of the Alex Thompson-directed film is spent on the forming friendship of Bridget and Frances, a bond reminiscent of the mentor/mentee relationships of films past: Uptown Girls, The Nanny Diaries, etc. It’s just as sweet, here, with the two girls learning, laughing and getting frustrated with each other while they cope with their individual struggles. 

The setting of Saint Frances plays a major role as the yin and yang of city and suburban life, most especially in Chicago with the wealthy northern communities (Wilmette, where it was shot) John Hughes captured perfectly nearly four decades ago. Many scenes are well-crafted and strikingly intimate, but one, in particular, captures the essence of the 106-minute feature: Frances runs into a Catholic church, pretending to be a priest while Bridget is left to be the confessor. It’s poignant, for both the character and the viewer, and exemplifies the talent of O’Sullivan as a writer and a performer. 

While the pro-choice aspect of this film is a divisive one, the character of Bridget is more than the decisions she makes; a beautiful lesson in seeing the whole of a person rather than their “controversial” parts. You don’t have to agree with her choices to think it’s beautiful, to appreciate her truth. And that just about sums up the film: you have a journey with all the complicated, messy, beautiful, painful parts that come with finding your way and, ultimately, growing up.

© Brigid K. Presecky (2/26/20) FF2 Media

Featured photo by Corey Stein

Q: Does Saint Frances pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

With flying colors. Nearly every scene features two women in it, rarely talking about a man.

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Brigid K. Presecky
by
FF2 Media Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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