‘Saint Frances’ Turns Failing Into Compelling Drama

From the outset, it’s clear Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) isn’t even close to living the life she intended. At 34 years old, she’s still waiting tables for a living and definitely making questionable romantic choices. She looks young and untried; until you see the world-weary and defeat lurking in her gaze. Soon after meeting Bridget the audience watches as she falls into an awkward – but potentially promising – relationship and completely blows an interview to nanny during the summer. Bridget appears to have very little idea what to do about the lackluster future where her current path dead ends. There’s no clear reason why or how she got here. This  not-so-young anymore woman’s story is a heartwarming yet biting look at the road no one ever plans to take and the pitfalls and triumphs to be hand during the journey.

Lately, character studies built around millennial-age women feel overly agenda riddled in the viewing. The driving force of the messaging eclipses the life moments that are supposedly the beating heart behind the narrative. But in Saint Frances, writer/actor Kelly O’Sullivan put forward a story that marries some of the trickier aspects of adulthood, womanhood and falling short of expectations with a whimsical story about Bridget; a woman responsible for the care of a child she’s in no way ready to handle.

Ramona Edith-Williams and Kelly O’Sullivan in Saint Frances

As the film’s writer and lead, Kelly O’Sullivan offers up jarringly personal moments and life’s inexplicably well timed catastrophes to build a window into these lives. Delving into postpartum depression, how a new baby can change the relationship between even the best of partnerships is all effortlessly intertwined with Bridget’s. There’s a depth and emotion to the encounters between characters and even the chaotic nature of Bridget’s choices that lend a genuineness to the story. That authenticity makes room for compelling narrative.

This world may revolve around Bridget and her unfocused life, but there are interesting stories to be found involving everyone. A chance meeting – and ironic connection – brings a man into Bridget’s life; one genuinely interested in being with her. He’s younger than she is so, Bridget refuses to see it as more than a casual hook up despite the chemistry between them. After her amazingly bad interview, the couple in search of a nanny hire someone else. And although she attempts to laugh it off at the time, Bridget jumps at the chance to accept the job when they come calling for help later in the summer. But she’s completely unprepared for frustratingly energetic Frances or her exhausted mother who is clearly hanging on by a very thin thread.

Stepping into this family unit forces Bridget to not only act her age but accept responsibility for someone else. An unexpected pregnancy and the aftermath of her decision to have an abortion further complicates Bridget’s attempt to deal with not being “who” she hoped to by this point in life. O’Sullivan script confronts each of these moments with compassion and her performance is given with such emotion that the reality attached to it all is undeniable. The performances and normalized portrayal – usually denied such subject matter – sheds light on how personal processing these events can be even when not going through them alone. This film digs into situations where common excuses aren’t enough to gloss over mistakes and what it takes to confront your shortcomings.

Ramona Edith-Williams and Kelly O’Sullivan in Saint Frances

At the same time, the initially combative relationship that slowly builds into a friendship between Frances and Bridget is believable, charming, and unexpectedly humorous. The energy between O’Sullivan and Edith-Williams translates into a highly relatable and compelling dynamic between and adult and child. Edith-Williams is a precocious and obviously talented young actor who draws the eye and holds attention. Seeing the world – and Bridget – through her eyes drives home the point that self-judgment can be blind. Their growth juxtaposed against the jarring haphazardness to other aspects of Bridget’s life is a perfect mirror for adulthood in general. Every glimpse into her life – and through her, the lives of Frances and her mothers – is offered with refreshing honesty and a poignant relevance. Saint Frances centers women (at various stages of life) and treats the issues that complicate their lives with watchable dignity.

Saint Frances is about family dynamics and unexpected connections. It’s about having your failures constantly shoved in your face by well-meaning family. It’s reckless behavior and complicated choices. It’s about how a six year old and a thirty-four your old woman finding what they need in one another. But mostly it’s a reminder that there’s no harsher critic than ourselves. It’s a story that shows its audience that sometimes the only way out is to stop living for “should be’ and work through what is.