From the get-go, Saint Frances declares its intentions boldly through its central premise - to explore emotionally sensitive topics rarely examined in modern cinema, something that can be seen as daring especially given the prevailing political climate, and to craft an experience that resonates with women. This thrust is made abundantly apparent through its plot - Bridget, played by writer Kelly O’Sullivan, grapples with an unwanted pregnancy that ultimately results in an abortion. While grappling with this, Bridget strikes up a peculiar yet strong friendship with a six-year-old girl named Frances, and from there a somewhat heartfelt yet rather typical journey of self-discovery ensues.
The movie’s intentions are self-evident, even noble; it looks to give people a voice, to portray circumstances in dire need of representation. While intentions are noble, however, execution is always key, and it is in this regard that Saint Frances stumbles noticeably. It finds itself hampered by its own genre. At times, it approaches subjects such as abortion, the resulting void and the sensation of loss, not just physical but both emotional and spiritual, with quiet and appropriate care and grace. Other times, the film awkwardly attempts to squeeze an almost morbid sense of humor out of such things as menstrual blood, rendering the ‘dramedy’ approach very hit and miss. Sometimes deeply sensitive and personal matters are approached with the quiet dignity and gravity they deserve; other times, the film delivers its filibustering on pro and anti-life and womanhood and lived experiences with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the cranium, to the point where one can’t help but wonder if the quieter moments are some kind of fluke made to serve as calmer window-dressing to a hollow agenda.
The varying range of performances also do the material no favours. Surprisingly, Williams perhaps shines brightest as the eponymous spirit guide-slash-insubordinate munchkin, performing with both youthful bubbliness and commendable emotional maturity. O’Sullivan is mostly level, but at times seems to struggle with delivering material that she herself has written, and the overwhelming majority of the remaining cast members are so devoid of any real presence that they scarcely warrant mention, being shoehorned into typical roles and flat characters, a great many of which exist to perpetuate one-dimensional stereotypes. Bridget and Frances are at least a strong emotional core, and in the third act of the film their relationship truly shines through - it is a shame, then, that one has to wade through humdrum to get there.
It is certainly worth a watch; the film is not just empty blustering, and does serve to give voice to critical issues that have affected women while giving them a means to reflect on similar experiences. With the end product being awkward, preachy and tonally mismatched, however, one can only find themselves left wanting.