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Aug 26 2019

AGLIFF: "Saint Frances"gets an encore screening,lives up to its hype.

by Nathaniel R

Afterwinning SXSW in Austin this spring,the festival darlingSaint Francesreturned to the film-friendly Texas city for an encore screening at AGLIFF.We were initially perplexed at the inclusion since we hadn't heard that it had LGBTQ content.But,then,we don't read reviews until after screening films so sometimes these details slip by.The film has been picked up by Oscilloscope for distribution (we presume in 2020?) but they have a challenge ahead in marketing it.The film has no name actors,no easy marketing hook (more of a character study than a plot film),and is a debut festival hit from a white male director.We only mention the latter,and half in jest,because the film actually has quite a fresh voice and inarguably feminine POV...

That's courtesy of the film's star Kelly O'Sullivan,who also wrote the screenplay.(You might remember her from the smart queer Chicago-based indieHenry Gamble's Birthday Partyor from a series regular role on the USA network's EMT comedySirens) She plays Bridget a directionless somewhat irresponsible restaurant server who just turns 30 and has no idea what to do with her life.We don't do spoilers in reviews so the set-up will suffice: In the first reel she gets pregnant,has an abortion,and immediately stumbles into a nannying job watching over the precocious child of a interracial lesbian couple who've just had another baby.

Plot is not the film's strength and when it leans that way,just once or twice,it can feel a bit indie-awkward,but for the most part this is a wonderfully fresh and charming dramedy with characterizations and a POV that we've rarely seen in films.While the abortion is key to the film in some ways,it's never positioned as a thing for Bridget to overcome or regret or "learn"from.But learn she does,in other key subtle ways.Even her sweet but clueless younger boyfriend -- who is at a loss as to how to relate to what he sees as Bridget's lack of emotional engagement -- gets three dimensions.Okay,two and a half.But that's more than almost any clearly temporary boyfriends get in films!

Even better and rarer than the film's clear-eyed politics around women's bodies is its take on conflict resolution.There are two totally disarming scenes that you expect to play out like a traditional movie but move sideways instead as adults choose to respect each other (gasp)  or give each other the benefit of the doubt (double-gasp),sometimes with the help of mini-person Frances.You'd think this would be anathema to the "conflict"required in screenplays to create drama but instead it's gripping.Instead we're watching multiple people,children and adults alike,just trying to make sense of their lives and prepare for the inevitable next chapter.Saint Frances,like the strong-willed and restless child that inspires its name, is often impossible to resist.B+

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Reader Comments (2)

ADORE this movie.So glad Oscilloscope's releasing it.

August 26,2019 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy

Haven't heard of this sounds interesting.When I first saw the picture with the sunglasses I thought that was Elisabeth Moss.

August 27,2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike Troutman

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