Alex Thompson’s Saint Frances is a Mostly Fine local production; an exercise in good taste that dares not risk alienating its audience in favor of something more imaginative. The film centers on Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan, who also wrote the film), a 34-year-old server who we first encounter at a party. She humors what we gather is a litany of men before coming across Jace (Max Lipchitz) – their morning-after moment, a particularly humorous exchange involving an abundant amount of period blood, is one of the highlights of a film that tends to gloss over anything especially specific.
As the film proceeds, Bridget takes up a nanny job for a lesbian, Evanston couple. As Maya (Charin Alvarez) cares for the couple’s newborn, Bridget is expected to care for their younger daughter Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). Are children in these types of films ever described as anything other than precocious? As one would expect, Bridget ends up learning a lot from Frances and so on and so forth. What Saint Frances reminded me of were better films from both sides of the coast: Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg and Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child are practically radical when it comes to its treatment of abortion and feminine ennui. Saint Frances comparatively has but the tiniest fraction of those films budgets, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s the issue with the film. The performers here, for the most part, are exceptional (O’Sullivan and Williams are notably terrific). But it’s the trajectory and overarching hollowness of the narrative that makes it difficult to embrace. Both Obvious Child and especially Greenberg were unafraid of making their audience members uncomfortable. Thompson and O’Sullivan tend to undercut some of their more insightful moments by making petty remarks at Midwestern conservatism – a scene involving a verbal confrontation with a breastfeeding shamer is thoughtful, another having the child of a pompous mother and her abrasive son is just juvenile. What comes of this is a mostly flat exercise, filled with too many non sequiturs (a narrative involving a guitar teacher demolishes most of the good will the film had produced and embarrasses all involved). But if the creases show, it’s Williams’ doe-eyed, aw-shucks performance that will likely iron this out for audiences.