“You’re the adult, right?”
Adulthood is something that Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan, who wrote the script) hasn’t quite mastered, in spite of her thirty-four years. She’s just kind of drifting along with no great ambition or direction. When she gets a summer job as a nanny for six year old Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams), she’s a bit over her head. But Franny’s mothers need help. Franny’s biological mother Annie (Lily Mojekwu) has to work; her other mother Maya (Charin Alvarez) is battling postpartum depression after the birth of Franny’s new brother. Franny is precocious and a bit manipulative. She knows how to push boundaries and buttons. It is a rocky start for the summer job.
All of this becomes more complicated when she becomes pregnant. She has only recently started her relationship with Jace (Max Lipshitz), but he is certainly supportive of her, whatever she decides. He is there for her when she goes through her abortion, and tries his best to help her recover. But Bridget isn’t in the mood to talk about it. There are a lot of things people don’t talk about in this story—especially things having to do with women’s bodies.
I should mention the blood. This isn’t a horror movie, but there is certainly blood—mostly menstrual blood and bleeding in the aftermath of the abortion. The frequency with which blood is involved with the story may be seen as some as off-putting, perhaps because it seems inappropriate or maybe just “gross”. Blood serves as an emotional stand in for all of the ways women are taught to be ashamed of their bodies. In an open letter, Kelly O’Sullivan says, “Saint Frances endeavors to normalize and de-stigmatize those parts of womanhood that we’re encouraged not to talk about.” Those things women are often taught to avoid talking about include abortion, menstruation, and postpartum depression. You can add to that the disapprobation many women experience when breastfeeding in public. (Which is also portrayed in this film.)
All of that may give the impression that this can be put into a box labelled “Women’s Movie”. The film undoubtedly has a woman’s voice, but it cannot be so easily categorized. While it is clearly woman-centric, the underlying emotional issues it explores are not limited to gender. And the characters while mostly women are easy for viewers of either sex to identify with.
The film also carries with it a patina of religion. Annie and Maya are raising their children as Catholic. Bridget describes herself as a “fallen” Catholic. The church and discussions of faith (gee, there’s something else we’re not supposed to talk about) pop up in small ways. This eventually leads to a wonderful scene in an empty church where Franny has gone to the confessional, but is sitting in the priest’s seat. When Bridget comes, they play a little bit of confession, which allows Bridget to begin to come to terms with her own feelings—not just about her abortion, but about how her life has progressed (or not).
The concept of confession (whether religious or not) is central to this story. It is all the things that are never confessed—that no one is willing to talk about—that make us too ashamed to be honest even with those we love—that create the barriers that can prevent us from finding fulfilment in our lives. That is one of the reasons that confession plays a part in the religious life. It may or may not take place in a religious setting, but to speak one’s faults, sorrows, and pains can allow healing to begin. But when all those problems are held inside us, they never go away on their own. They just continue to grow until we can no longer handle them.
Saint Frances is available on VOD
Photos courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories