Saint Frances (5 stars)

Saint Frances

Must-see dramedy about the complexities of modern womanhood, scripted by and starring Kelly O'Sullivan

A woman's right to choose and not feel too bad about it is at the heart of a refreshingly frank, ultimately hugely touching abortion dramedy, scripted by and starring Kelly O'Sullivan, whose subtle, semi-deadpan charisma and ability to capture the complexities of modern womanhood mark her out as a star. Directed with appealing airiness by debut feature helmer Alex Thompson, it finds a 34-year-old woman frustratedly figuring herself out as the rest of the world looks on in judgement – or so it certainly seems.

O'Sullivan is Bridget, who leaves her job as a restaurant server to work as a temporary nanny for overwhelmed gay couple Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu). With little experience of kids and an upfront approach to her own failings, Bridget is their second choice, and clearly winging it when she assumes responsibility for the personable and petulant six-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), who has no plans to make things easier for this flailing feminist. As Bridget takes baby steps toward bonding with her tyrannical charge, she's faced with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, and makes what appears to be a pretty straightforward choice.

Given that the last major US film to tackle abortion – the similarly masterful Never Rarely Sometimes Always – did so in a powerful and political way, it's interesting to see the issue handled with a lighter, much more humorous but equally authentic touch, one that's closer in tone to 2014's Obvious Child. It shows that, although it's ok to not feel guilty about such decisions, it doesn't mean you can't feel sad. O'Sullivan also absolutely nails how young children talk – the combination of kid-speak and their awkward absorption of adult phrases – which is so rarely done well and, if Frances looks like an adorable moppet, in her refusal to play ball she's far from cutesy. That you can like children but not want them, or not want them right now is another important message here.

Saint Frances is equally shrewd in its depiction of the pressure not just to have it all, but to cope, it's full of strong women who are struggling – to find or maintain a career, to raise a family, to be a good feminist. It understands, too, that sometimes other people are less the problem, and that perhaps we should learn to be kinder to ourselves.

In cinemas from Fri 24 Jul.

Saint Frances

  • 5 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Alex Thompson
  • Cast: Kelly O'Sullivan, Charin Alvarez, Braden Crothers

A waitress must cope with an accidental pregnancy while juggling a new gig as a nanny to a rambunctious six-year-old.