Saint Frances kicked off the 7th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival and what a delightful way to start the festival it was. Alex Thompson’s film is smart, funny, endearing, authentic, and showcases the talent of writer/start Kelly O’Sullivan.
Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) isn’t society’s definition of successful. She’s a 34 year old waitress with no prospects for a lover or for a family, which is cool with Bridget. Bridget still thinks she can do the things she could do when she was 24, including hooking up with random guys she meets at a party. When that hook up leads to an unexpected pregnancy, Bridget decides to have an abortion, knowing she is not ready to mother a child. At the same time, Bridget quits her waitressing job to become a nanny for little Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), who forces Bridget to realize her new responsibility and grow up.
Watching Saint Frances, it reminded me of a more grounded version of Jason Reitman’s Juno, as the film looks at a relatively serious subject – unplanned pregnancy and abortion – but does so with sincerity and humor. Kelly O’Sullivan wrote an excellent script, straying away from Hollywood clichés and keeping the film authentic. O’Sullivan and Thompson give us a detailed look at the after effects of an abortion, both physically and emotionally, yet never make the movie preachy about the subject. The film shows the social stigma that comes with abortion and, thanks to recent happenings Alabama and Georgia, this film has become even more relevant. O’Sullivan also gives us a coming of age story, with subplots focusing on the family dynamic, the social stigma of a gay couple, and unexpected friendships. Though the film does run a little long at the end, O’Sullivan meshes all of this together seamlessly to give us a rounded, compelling film.
O’Sullivan’s performance as Bridget is just as good as her script, if not better. This could be one of the breakout performances of the year, as O’Sullivan portrays a woman who is a hot mess, but must grow up without changing who she is. It is strong work and O’Sullivan carries this film. We also get a number of great supporting performances from Williams, who is simply adorable, as well as Charin Alvarez and Lily Mojekwu, who play Frances’ parents. Both women give relatively subtle performances until the end of the film, where both women are given the chance to flash their acting chops and almost steal the movie.
Saint Frances is a tiny movie about how tiny person forced a grown woman to grow up. Led by O’Sullivan’s stellar script and layered performance, this is a film that will have you laughing and smiling with joy, yet pull at the heartstrings and think about the social stigmas of today.
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