‘Saint Frances’ is an honest look at the clumsy road to womanhood

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From the very beginning of Saint Frances, it’s clear we’re in for something special. Inclusive, blunt and unapologetically feminist, this is a film that explores millennial milieu in all its chaotic glory. And if it has one thing to say, it’s this: let’s stop trying to avoid talking about what life is really like. Period sex happens. Abortions happen. Awkward condom talk happens. Deal with it.

Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) is flailing about through life. She’s the type of girl who, when questioned about her current situation, gives straightforward monotone answers; she knows her life is completely off track, and she dares you to admit it out loud. A 34-year-old college dropout, she works as a server at a restaurant and has no real romantic prospects on the horizon. To make matters worse, she’s dealing with an accidental pregnancy turned abortion. Nothing is turning out the way she expected it to.

When she gets a job nannying 6-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), it looks like things are finally turning around for her. But being a nanny is no walk in the park — Franny may be young, but she has a mind of her own. As the two go from butting heads to becoming unexpected friends, Bridget must navigate the messiness that comes along with finding yourself smack in the middle of someone else’s family.

Written by the film’s lead actress, Kelly O’Sullivan, Saint Frances isn’t stepping into particularly new narrative territory. We’ve seen plenty of films about children inspiring adults to get their act together before. But O’Sullivan brings such a human touch to the story that it never feels like a cliché. From start to finish, it feels lived in; it feels like real life.

When interviewing for the nanny position with Franny’s moms, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), she’s asked if she has a close relationship with her younger brother. “Not really”, Bridget responds. “He has a job and a house and is very responsible; we don’t have a lot in common.” When you’re in your early 30s, it feels like you should be able to acknowledge yourself as a grown-up. Grown-ups don’t even use the term “grown-up,” right? Bridget is all of us who have ever struggled to feel like that label accurately described our current status in the world.

Tackling tricky subject matters such as postpartum depression and abortion, director Alex Thompson and O’Sullivan handle these topics with grace and straightforward honesty. Here, three different generations of women are fleshed out and on full display, and the cat is out of the bag: femininity doesn’t always need to be pretty.

The road to womanhood is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Nevertheless, Saint Frances posits that we can all make it through with a little help from our girlfriends. No age requirement necessary.

Saint Frances is now playing at MDC’s Tower Theater Miami Virtual Theater. For tickets, click here

Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen is the Miami Film Festival's associate director of programming. She also runs the Festival’s membership level for young professionals, CineClub. Learn more about Lauren on Programmers.