Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) needs a lot of things. She needs a new job. She needs an abortion. But most of all, she needs a friend. “Saint Frances,” written by O’Sullivan, directed by Alex Thompson in his feature debut, is the story of Bridget finding the very friend that she needs in the most unexpected of packages, a precocious 6-year-old named Franny (Ramona Edith Williams).
This utterly poignant and beautiful tale of human connection opens with a candid discussion of post-coital menstrual blood, a topic that is rarely broached in polite conversation despite the commonality of its occurrence. Bringing these taboo, specifically feminine experiences out into the open is the intention of “Saint Frances,” which tackles relationships, sex, abortion, birth, postpartum depression and homophobia with an unflinching sort of grace.
That is aided in large part by the goofy, loving innocence offered up in spades by the adorable Franny, whose nanny Bridget is hired to be over the summer, while Franny’s mothers, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), tend to their newborn, Wally, and a demanding career, respectively. At 34, Bridget is a bit old for the gig, but it’s a lifeline out of her dead-end waitressing job, and life-changing in ways she’d never anticipate.
Within Maya and Annie’s home, Bridget eventually finds a loving matriarchy. Though it’s not without its misunderstandings, foibles and dark moments, it’s a stark contrast to the world of condescending men her own age, needy younger men and older men with ulterior motives. After falling into bed with the sensitive Jace (Max Lipchitz), Bridget ends up pregnant and decides to terminate with the abortion pill. The physical aftereffects color her entire summer with Franny.
Guided by O’Sullivan’s singular writerly voice, the sweetly frank “Saint Frances” joins Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child” in a canon of sorts: gently realistic feminist films that deal with the realities of abortion with humor and honesty, addressing all the messiness, emotional and otherwise, that comes with this choice.
Anchored by delicately moving performances from O’Sullivan and the amazing Williams, “Saint Frances” is a quietly riveting film that slowly but surely draws you in. Through Franny, Bridget connects with Maya and Annie, and most importantly, connects with herself, as an advocate, protector and friend.
What emerges from this story of one complex, confused and floundering woman who finds the kid for her even if she isn’t sure she wants a kid, is a gem of a tale about letting oneself truly connect to another, even if that other person is 28 years younger than you. Franny becomes Bridget’s closest confidante, and the person who offers the only validation she’s received in a long time.
“I’m proud of you,” Franny assures Bridget, “you try even when you’re scared.” There’s a gravity to that simple statement for adults who have been through the worst, that even if we’re scared, the most important thing to do is just try. It’s a bittersweet and beautiful reminder about being brave and the friends who see that when you need it most.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts March 6, ArcLight Hollywood; Regal Edwards Westpark, Irvine