Saint Frances Takes a Charming and Honest Look at Pregnancy
Millennial comedy and the things women don't want to talk about
The blood-shy be warned: There's a lot of red stuff in Saint Frances.
At 34, Bridget (in a spot-on portrayal by Kelly O'Sullivan) is careerless, kidless, and sleeping with a twentysomething bartender when two life-altering events happen near simultaneously: Bridget has an abortion, and she is offered a summer babysitting job for 6-year-old Frances (powerfully acted by an endearing Ramona Edith-Williams). Life questions, hilarity, taboo conversations, and blood clots ensue. Written by O'Sullivan, directed by Alex Thompson, and making its world premiere at SXSW, Saint Frances is both a quintessential millennial comedy and a timeless commentary on the things women don't talk about.
While the humor is a bit more true-to-life than your average comedy, O'Sullivan and Thompson both approached the "abortion" story with lightheartedness in mind. "When I hear it's a film about a woman who gets an abortion, I immediately think it's an 'issue film,'" explained O'Sullivan. Instead, the writer and director duo attempted – and achieved – what Thompson described as a "deceptively bright [and] vibrant summer movie." But just like IRL, "It's never just a fun summer," O'Sullivan concluded. "There's always something else going on."
O'Sullivan began writing the script in earnest in January 2018, but the idea for Saint Frances had been bubbling within her for some time. Though she insists the film is largely fictional, its inspiration stems from the juxtaposition of two of the writer's own major life moments. During her 20s, O'Sullivan worked as nanny, a job she described as a "bizarre, rich experience" that she always intended to write about. A decade or so later, O'Sullivan had an abortion and realized Hollywood's representations of the process were not reflective of her experience. "You can be certain," she said. "It doesn't have to be traumatic. And it can be sort of everyday."
The script plays the two life events off one another. Though never trivializing the experience, Bridget – even when questioned, "Do you want to know if it's twins?" – never falters in her decision. O'Sullivan, joking about the many films and TV shows that portray women changing their minds in the doctor's office, simply said, "No." Saint Frances, then, is O'Sullivan's response to America's hush-hushness about abortions. "You hide that you're carrying a tampon to the bathroom," said O'Sullivan. "My abortion was my most extreme 'oh, you shouldn't talk about that' experience." The secretiveness didn't feel right, but still, O'Sullivan admitted, it's difficult to share her story at a larger level. "I'm worried some hate might be thrown this way." Like the characters in her film, she found herself hesitant to discuss her experience but credits a good friend with helping her come to terms with speaking up. "She told me: 'You have to talk about this if you don't want that fear to continue.'"
Of course, Bridget's abortion isn't the only unspoken issue tackled onscreen. While their nanny spends her summer bleeding through pants and attempting to wrangle a precocious little girl, Frances' moms, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), are facing their own life hurdles. In her late 30s, Maya has just given birth to their second child. Any pregnancy that happens over the age of 35, the character explains, is clinically referred to as a "geriatric pregnancy": "Likely coined by a geriatric ... white man."
Maya, of course, provides an interesting comparison for Bridget. Though the conversation about Maya's pregnancy is brief, the effect is powerful. Both Bridget and viewers are quick to do the math, and she becomes a proxy for the many millennial women out there (including this writer) becoming increasingly aware that while the world continues to treat us like teenagers, we're rapidly approaching the age of geriatric pregnancies and real life questions: Are we ready, do we want, and can we (still) have children?
Onscreen, Maya – silently struggling with postpartum depression – stays home with the baby, and Annie returns to work full time. O'Sullivan said – and Thompson agreed – that the issue they're facing "is something many couples, straight and queer, struggle with" as one parent works to support the family while the other grows increasingly overwhelmed at home. This ultimately leads to a breakdown of communication; but, bathed in these summer vibes, all can be mended by daring to have an open and honest conversation.
Ultimately, Edith-Williams as Saint Frances offers Bridget some much needed healing and love – "Not for the abortion, but for the shame she feels for her life," said O'Sullivan. But it's not just Bridget on the receiving end of that blessing. It's all of us.
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