Director Alex Thompson and writer-actor Kelly O’Sullivan tackle subjects that have been stigmatized in the past, including queer marriage, abortion and postpartum depression, with the new drama “Saint Frances” about a 34-year-old waitress named Bridget (played by O’Sullivan), whose life takes on new meaning after taking a nanny position and meeting 6-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams) the daughter of lesbian couple Annie (Lily Mojekwu) and Maya (Charin Álvarez). Throw in potential boyfriend material and watch as Bridget’s life seems to spiral out of control when in reality it’s coming together.
O’Sullivan is terrific to watch as she ventures into territory usually covered by Amy Schumer. The North Little Rock native honed her acting chops in the theater before crossing over to television with a role on USA’s “Sirens” and appearances in several indie films. She is the driving force behind “Saint Frances” with a genuine performance that feels so authentic that Bridget could be someone that we all know.
What really makes the film click is the dynamic of lackadaisical Bridget teamed with little ball of energy Frances played by 8-year-old Ramona Edith Williams in her feature debut. Williams has a Shirley Temple quality that makes her adorable to watch even when she’s stirring the pot. The supporting cast features a moving performance by Charin Álvarez as Maya, one half of the same sex couple raising Frances. Her character suffers from postpartum depression while taking care of her newborn and Frances when Bridget is not around to help.
The bond that develops between Bridget and Maya in the film is another great element to the story. The platonic relationship grows stronger after Maya witnesses a neighbor speak to Bridget in a condescending manner after she realizes that Bridget is just Maya’s nanny and not a resident of the upper-class neighborhood. Later when Maya tries to breastfeed her baby in public, a snooty mom tries to make her feel bad and Bridget steps up to support her employer and friend. That scene may dip into slight melodrama, but the terrific performances make up for any missteps.
There is a significant amount of blood in “Saint Frances” considering that it isn’t a horror film. In one scene, one-night stand and possible boyfriend material Jace (Max Lipchitz) discovers blood on the bed sheets from Bridget’s period after sex the night before. She responds with “I know that some guys are into this, they call themselves bloodhounds” to which Jace replies “Oh, I’m not a bloodhound.” Thompson doesn’t shy away from getting blood all over the sheets and actors during the very funny scene.
The film also covers abortion but without making it a central issue. Bridget finds out she’s pregnant and decides immediately that she doesn’t want kids. She gets the procedure done with support from Jace but as she begins to work as a nanny her viewpoint towards children begins to change as she develops a close relationship with Frances. There are no moral dilemmas nor regrets as Bridget moves forward with her life.
The film’s title and the religious references never fully explain Bridget’s break from her Catholic faith and the romantic subplot with Jim True-Frost as Frances’ hunky guitar teacher seems unnecessary, otherwise “Saint Frances” is a bold and refreshing film brimming with terrific performances.