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Saint Frances
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by Jay Seaver

"Well, there's a metaphor you can miss."
3 stars

I suspect that the weird way films are being released as people shelter in place this spring has been, if not good, then at least an opportunity for movies like "Saint Frances". Theaters that had a hard time finding screens and showtimes for them can instead put them in a "virtual screening room", which has all the convenience of an online rental but the curation of an actual cinema, which is the sort of thing a decent film of this one's scale needs to thrive. It's easily overlooked in most seasons but worth checking out now that it's got a little space to work in.

It follows Bridget (Kelly O'Sullivan), a 34-year-old woman working as a waitress who can't help but feel everyone else her age (and younger) has done much more than she has. A friend recommends her to Maya (Charin Alvarez) and her wife Annie (Lily Mojekwu) for a job, but she's not called back until their first choice quits and Maya is feeling overwhelmed between the new baby and five-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams). Frannie is somewhat slow to warm to the new nanny, and the thing she's started with nice but equally-stalled Jace (Max Lipchitz) has been made more complicated by a positive pregnancy test, though he's at least very helpful when the abortion procedure leaves Bridget in rougher physical shape than she was expecting.

As the back half of Saint Frances chugs along, I can't help but think the way Bridget is almost constantly bleeding in the wake of her abortion is a striking-at-the-very-least metaphor I've never seen before, then wonder if that's just because I'm a man and women use it among themselves all the time, then recall that it's spelled out right in the movie that women would probably be better off talking about this sort of thing more. It is an impressive balancing act in how it instantly reads as both instantly alarming and easily taken for granted, both simply what it physically is and a clear reflection of what's going on in Bridget's head without stretching too far.

It's a solid-enough hook to hang the film on, even if there's not a lot external happening. Director Alex Thompson and writer/star Kelly O'Sullivan leave room for Maya, Annie, and Frances to have their own stories which are close to as fleshed-out as Bridget's without it truly becoming an ensemble movie, keeping the focus solidly on Bridget. One thing which they manage to do quite well is make sure that Frannie isn't unusually or unrealistically wise - instead, when she says a thing that Bridget needs to hear, it sounds memorized, that it's very much something where she has heard the words but it's up to the other women to discover meaning in them.

Young Ramona Edith-Williams steals scenes, of course; she's put in positions where her being standoffish or enthusiastic plays well off the rest of the cast and lets the audience infer a fair amount about the world around her. O'Sullivan does something similar for herself, making Bridget kind of a casual screw-up and so thoroughly inured to self-doubt that there's not a lot of overt tension to it. Sure, she'll panic when things start to look like real damage might be done, but she frets well, not dismissive or unduly confident, functionally nervous without it obviously getting in the way despite her having stalled.

There are parts of the film that don't come together quite so well as one might hope - as tight as the center is, O'Sullivan and Thompson occasionally find the gap between witty writing and realistic awkwardness. It's seldom without a point, at least, enough for one to be grateful that this movie, the sort that could disappear once it leaves the festival circuit, is perhaps getting a bit more exposure than it otherwise might.

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originally posted: 04/10/20 23:14:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Chicago Critics Film Festival For more in the 2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 16-Jun-2020


  DVD: 16-Jun-2020

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