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maryann johanson | takeaway only

Saint Frances movie review: there will be blood — deal with it

Saint Frances green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Taboo-busting laugh-until-you-cry tale dares to speak of oft-unspoken matters of women’s lives. So very necessary to open up the range of women’s experiences seen as baseline. I love this movie.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies by and about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

There are so many things that women don’t speak truths about. We learn that there’s no room for the speaking when we accidentally say something out loud that we haven’t internalized that we’re supposed to keep quiet about, and then we get the side-eye and the embarrassed sighs and the gentle commands to hush about it… often from other women, because women can be the patriarchy’s best enforcers. Who wants to hear about periods and menopause and pregnancy and abortion and motherhood? Ugh! Why women gotta be so nasty? Sugar and spice, right?

Saint Frances Max Lipchitz Kelly O'Sullivan

Bridget’s boyfriend Jace is totally, absolutely, 100-percent cool with “her body, her choice,” but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Women are kept ignorant about our own bodies and gaslit by our culture when our lived lives don’t conform to the approved narrative — like, say, that motherhood is an unalloyed joy — because… well, there’s no “good” reason except that it reenforces narrow stereotypes of “proper” womanhood and femininity and prevents women from finding a solidarity in our shared experience when it turns out to be less glorious than promised. (Sometimes people with uteruses who aren’t women also experience these things, and their experiences are even less heard, and that’s a whole ’nother cluster of taboos that need to die.)

Saint Frances is here to say: “Fuck all that shit.”

I love this movie. Star and screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan based this story on her own abortion experience, and she pulls no punches and has nary a thought for the pearl-clutchers among us. This is a laugh-until-you-cry tale for O’Sullivan’s thirtysomething Bridget, and for us watching as well… at least if you’ve ever had a menstrual accident, or have worried what was normal for your body to be doing after you’ve had an abortion or given birth, or have struggled trying to cope with the almighty demands of a newborn. All these oft-unspoken matters Saint Frances dares to speak of. And if you’re a person who hasn’t had to deal with these things? Dudes, women have endured your onscreen comedy about embarrassing boners and all your other secret private boy things, so you can shut up and sit down and learn how to empathize with women at last.

If men had abortions, we’d be inundated with movies about abortion. That we aren’t is a testament to the urgent essentialness of Saint Frances.

This is not a movie about embarrassment. Bridget is not embarrassed by her body, but she does struggle to know what’s normal after she terminates an unintended and unwanted pregnancy. What’s normal in a strictly medical sense, that is: emotionally and psychologically, she knows an abortion is the right thing to do, she doesn’t hesitate to have an abortion, she does not regret her abortion in the least, and she is nothing but relieved when it’s done. Just showing us Bridget’s lived life — director Alex Thompson wisely stands aside for his feature debut and lets the script speak for itself — is taboo busting on its own. We’re so used to abortion being treated as a necessary evil, as something that women should resort to only we promise to be consumed with remorse. Not Bridget. O’Sullivan even dares to make sure that we know that the accidental pregnancy isn’t a result of failed birth control: Bridget wasn’t using any. And she still has the audacity to have a guilt-free abortion? You better believe it.

Where Bridget does hesitate is in talking about her experience to those around her, even with her charming and totally supportive boyfriend, Jace (Max Lipchitz), who wants to discuss all his feels about it. (Another taboo smashed: men have emotions too, and need to talk about them.) Because she knows that however contrary to expectations she may be feeling, she is needs to keep that to herself lest she be considered a monster, or — perhaps worse — not a Real Woman. Which is why Saint Frances is so very necessary, to open up the range of women’s experiences seen as baseline and perfectly normal.

Saint Frances Ramona Edith Williams Kelly O'Sullivan

Sometimes it takes a while for a gal to get comfortable enough to relax…

Anyway, all of this is taking place in the context of Bridget taking a job as a nanny to six-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams), to give her mom Maya (Charin Alvarez) a chance to recover after giving birth to a new baby brother; Frances’s other mom, Annie (Lily Mojekwu: Widows), has a demanding job that keeps her busy long hours. (More taboo-smashing: interracial same-sex couple goes uncommented on by the movie until it needs a bit of defending in the face of bigotry; this is one of the film’s most cheerworthy moments.) Frances is adorable but also completely realistic: she’s not a precocious movie kid but a complicated person in her own right, sometimes bratty and definitely someone it takes Bridget a while to warm up to. The trajectory of their relationship is the heart of the movie… but it is never a way to shame Bridget for her abortion, for having given up the chance to make her own little adorable brat, and it is always a way to show that not wanting to have children (or not wanting that right now) doesn’t mean you hate them.

Everything that Saint Frances is about, everything that it says and does, should feel trite. It should feel so obvious that none of it needs to be said. You may have heard this feminist platitude: “If men had abortions, it would be a sacrament.” I’ll amend this to it: “If men had abortions, we’d have been inundated with movies about abortion by now.” That none of these things is true of Saint Frances is a testament to its urgent essentialness.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2020’s other theatrical releases.



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