‘Saint Frances’ review: a must-watch indie gem from one of Hollywood’s brightest new talents

Writer-star Kelly O'Sullivan has crafted 2020's best coming of age drama

It takes roughly 90-seconds to realise you’re in good hands with Saint Frances. Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) is at a party listening to some guy describe a nightmare, in which he, a 34-year-old man, is childless and unsuccessful. In his nightmare, this is so awful he kills himself. He’s thankful to wake up to his married, child-having, career-y life. He then asks Bridget what she does. She is a waitress. She is single. She is 34. He gives her a pitying look and walks away. Bridget goes home with a 26-year-old waiter.

It’s just very good writing straight off the bat. There’s so much there. Bridget clearly doesn’t entirely love where her life is, but she enjoys herself. She’s evidently quite used to men who will reach the conversational point of talking about their nightmares (interesting to nobody) before it occurs to them to ask a woman about her life. It’s witty, quick and smart in its observations. That’s true of every scene in Saint Frances.

As well as playing Bridget, O’Sullivan wrote the script. It’s her first, which is almost impossible to believe. She writes complex situations really deftly. After a few dates with the 26-year-old waiter, Bridget finds out she’s pregnant. She has an abortion. At the same time, she is hired to be the nanny of an unruly small child, Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams). We might expect that story to become something schmaltzy about Bridget seeing motherhood differently by spending time with a child, but O’Sullivan is smarter than that. Bridget’s feelings about children do develop as her relationship with Frances grows, but that doesn’t make her regret her abortion. Hers is a story about making your own choices and not trying to make anybody else’s for them.

Saint Frances
‘Saint Frances’ tells the story of a nanny who finds friendship with a six-year-old left in her care. Credit: Vertigo Releasing

Saint Frances is full of scenes that upend what we’ve come to expect. Several times, Bridget bleeds during sex, first due to her period and later residual bleeding from her abortion. Those scenes aren’t played for gross-out comedy, but sort of amused fascination about the human body. The young waiter isn’t some childish boob who freaks out when Bridget is pregnant. He’s a grown-up with empathy and complicated feelings. There isn’t a choice O’Sullivan makes that feels false or easy, but nor does it ever feel self-important or preachy. It’s honest, real, very funny comedy about being honest and real. If O’Sullivan has started out this strong, there’s no telling where she could go from here.

Details

  • Director: Alex Thompson
  • Starring: Kelly O’Sullivan, Charin Alvarez, Braden Crothers
  • Release date: July 24 (Digital and a limited theatrical release)
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