Saint Frances is a new film directed by Alex Thompson and written by and starting Kelly O’Sullivan. The movie is about a woman in her thirties who takes a job as a nanny for the older child of an expecting lesbian couple as she herself is dealing with the consequences of a recent abortion. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival where it won the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature Competition category.
One thing that was extremely surprising about this film is that the characters were so extremely compelling. It would have been easy for the lead character, a thirty-something that is upset with the way her life turned out, to be annoying and complain all the time. Instead, her story is made to be compelling and she is shown as a likable but flawed person. Her story is likely to resonate with many audiences, particularly female ones, who may see parts of their own story in the protagonist. The child to whom the protagonist is nanny, Frances, is also a very interesting character with an arc of her own. The relationship between Frances and her nanny is very interesting and well-developed.
The movie also does surprisingly well balancing all of the messages it has about society. Topics addressed by the film include such relevant social issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, and female sexuality, in addition to the more general ideas of motherhood and finding one’s place. O’Sullivan obviously has a lot to say and is able to say it in a short amount of time in a way that is both entertaining and enlightening.
Because the characters are so well-developed and the messages ring so true to life, the movie ends up being quite heartwarming. You will be hard pressed to find a moment in the film which isn’t working on at least one of your emotions, whether joy, sadness, or anger. The movie does a very good job of getting an emotional response out of the audience without feeling preachy or contrived, and in so doing, allows the audience to connect more with the characters, message, and story.
O’Sullivan also nails the comedic aspects of the story. Much like in real life, the characters had to make jokes in order to adequately deal with the feelings that they were experiencing. There are lots of hilarious jokes about topics that are sometimes considered taboo in films, like abortion or menstruation. This is why we need more female filmmakers and writers: we need to destigmatize these types of stories because they are so true to life, whether we want to try to avoid them or not.
The ensemble does a very good job with the movie. O’Sullivan plays the protagonist and she does an excellent job, bringing great emotion and comedic timing to the role. She wrote the film, so she obviously has a very personal connection to the story and characters, and it absolutely shows. The supporting cast is great too. Charin Alvarez brings a lot of emotion to her role as one of the mothers that employs the protagonist, and child actress Ramona Edith-Williams is wonderful as the eponymous Frances. She is adorable and has great delivery. Hopefully Edith-Williams will have a bright future as an actress.
In technical terms, the movie is relatively simple given its indie, low-budget status. However, the film is still very well-made. The cinematography is straightforward, but stable and professional-looking. The editing is quite smooth. The soundtrack, while not super memorable, does a pretty solid job of complementing the movie’s tone.
Overall, Saint Frances was a very impressive film. This is a very ambitious dramedy that definitely paid off, because it is certainly one of the most surprising hits to come out of SXSW this year.
Saint Frances debuted at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.