As you know, our governor’s executive order this past Monday allowed for movie theaters in our area (as well as other establishments) to open this week as long as they don’t run over 25 percent capacity. None of Tarrant County’s cinemas are taking the bait, however, out of concerns for the health of their customers and employees, and also because running at 25 percent is a losing proposition for them economically. With that in mind, I’m taking a look at another one of the Grand Berry Theater’s streaming offerings, a comedy called Saint Frances that pushes the gross-out envelope further than most woman-centric movies without losing its charm.
We first see Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) at a party hearing some dude moan about wanting to kill himself because he’s 34 and hasn’t accomplished anything, while she’s the same age and is still conducting Google searches about what to do with her life. Life, as it sometimes does, gives her a kick-start: First, she becomes pregnant by a considerably younger random hookup (Max Lipchitz) and has an abortion while continuing to see him. Second, she takes a summer job as a nanny to a Catholic lesbian couple and their 6-year-old daughter Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). Not only is Bridget scantily qualified for the job, but Frances is a handful with a temper and little respect for other people’s privacy. She points out that Bridget is bleeding vaginally after her abortion, but then, her bleeding is so heavy that practically everyone in this film notices it.
That’s a detail that O’Sullivan takes pains to include as the screenwriter on this project. Merely having the film start with the abortion instead of ending with it is pretty unusual, and while most comedies that go this deep into bodily functions opt for high energy and raucousness, this one adopts a low-key tone under first-time director Alex Thompson. Maybe too low-key, as the film lacks a hook to immediately distinguish it from scores of other winsome comedies about youngish people flailing for a sense of purpose. Even so, you can make out telling details like a subplot about one of the mothers (Charin Alvarez) buckling under the pressure of postpartum depression and taking care of Frances’ new baby brother, who won’t stop crying. On a lighter note, one of Bridget’s college classmates (Rebekah Ward) finds out that she’s working as a nanny and effortlessly transitions to treating her as the help. Said classmate turns out to be the author of a financial self-help book called Resting Rich Face — how good is that?
What makes Saint Frances worth sticking with is the unpredictable way that the combination of the abortion and taking care of a difficult child acts on Bridget’s own feelings about having her own kids in the future. This is not a film of great epiphanies — and it’s least successful when it gestures in that direction — but rather of small shifts in perspective that allow its characters to move forward. The rapport, too, between O’Sullivan and Williams is winning, especially in a scene at the baby’s christening, when lapsed Catholic Bridget and Frances have a conversation in a confessional, with the little girl assuming the part of God. Scenes like this excuse the movie’s sentimental excesses and add up to a fine first effort.
Starring Kelly O’Sullivan and Ramona Edith Williams. Directed by Alex Thompson. Written by Kelly O’Sullivan. Not rated.