In the nicest possible way, Saint Frances is a Lifetime TV movie that has a degree in feminist literary theory. If you added about 40 minutes and cast any of the Freaks and Geeks bros as the lead, you’d have yet another Judd Apatow dramedy redeeming manbabies. Luckily, writer and lead actress Kelly O’Sullivan and director Alex Thompson invert that stale trope and present an authentic struggle of a woman finding her way to solace and sisterhood.
Bridget, played by O’Sullivan, is a thirtysomething who is working as a restaurant server, which is a job people used to have in the “before time.” She discovers that she is pregnant right as she is hired on as a nanny for a 6-year-old spitfire named Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). As Bridget deals with the after effects of an abortion, she is forced to navigate the strained marriage of Frances’s parents, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), and ask some hard questions about what it is she actually wants out of the rest of her life.
Saint Frances is the best kind of sloppy, meandering drama. Bridget doesn’t bounce down a checklist of plot points so much as she falls down a narrative flight of stairs. A conversation with her mother spills into a poignant discussion about Maya’s postpartum depression. A discussion with the amiable goon who got her pregnant dovetails into realizations about resentment. A run-in with a judgmental former classmate prompts her to actually contemplate future family planning. All the while, the delightfully stubborn Frances pouts and stomps her way into the audience’s heart.
Saint Frances really doesn’t say or do anything new, other than its particularly excellent normalization of women’s bodily functions. You could argue the film is something like a feature-length tampon ad, except it is far braver and more honest about menstruation issues than a confessional booth sponsored by Tampax.
The way that religion slides into Saint Frances is also nimble. The film is a heartfelt reconciliation of traditional values and progressive ideology, which have never been the opposites some try to torture them into becoming. Unlike manbaby movies, the realization that Bridget arrives at by the end isn’t “I should stop being a whiny, useless loser” but “I have a right to my feelings and will be supported by women as I pursue what I want in this life.” O’Sullivan’s script is nuanced but her performance has more layers than a dump truck filled with Neapolitan ice cream.
Saint Frances is a sweet ode to empathy, a celebration of sisterhood, and a charming character study that never “insists upon itself.” From across our social distances, this seems like a good time to watch a film about the value in quietly taking care of one another and reevaluating what happiness actually means. Saint Frances may not pull off a literal miracle, but enjoying a light tale of community right now sure feels divine.
Grade = A-