Chicago Critics Film Festival Opening Night 2019 by Patty Babin

“Saint Frances” opening night Chicago Critics Film Festival. Kelly O’Sullivan and Ramona Edith Williams

A Chicago Film Opens CCFF

Friday, May 17, 2019, was opening night for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and “Saint Frances,” played to a packed house at the Music Box Theater in Chicago and received a resounding standing ovation. This Chicago made film was the perfect choice to start the week-long festival.

Kelly O’Sullivan not only writes, but stars in the film, Alex Thompson, a DePaul University film school alumni directs. O’Sullivan plays, Bridget, who is “on the cusp” of being a millennial at 34 years-old and is working as a restaurant server until she is offered a well-paying job as nanny to a six-year-old girl named Frances, played by Ramona Edith Williams. Francis is wise-beyond-her-years, stubborn, and an independent child who challenges Bridget at every turn. Shorty after Bridget starts this position; she learns that she is pregnant and immediately makes the decision to have an abortion.

“Saint Frances,” a beautiful and entertaining film follows the relationship between Bridget and Frances as both deal with the many expectations that society places on women and girls. As one can imagine, the juxtaposition of ending a pregnancy while taking a position to rear a child can stir many emotions. O’Sullivan does a fantastic job at letting their relationship unfold organically from caretaker to a loving parent-like bond.

Post Q&A: L-R Chicago film critics, Director Alex Thompson and Writer, Star Kelly O’Sullivan. Photo Credit: Patty Babin.

During the Q & A session following the screening, O’Sullivan and co-Director Alex Thompson touched on the film’s casting process which was completed in cooperation with the local firm, PR Casting. Ramona Edith Williams was recommended to O’Sullivan and Thompson after being cast in a healthcare commercial. O’Sullivan commented that Ramona’s parents played an important role in preparing her portrayal and the many nuances in the relationship between Bridget and Frances. Lily Mojekwu and Charin Alvarez were cast as Frances’ moms and their chemistry as her parents are truly amazing.

For some roles, the duo reached out to local Chicago theater actors whom they admire and asked if they would be interested in playing roles in the film. Actors Francis Guinan and Mary Beth Fisher play Kelly’s parents. O’Sullivan actually wrote the parts for them because she loves both of their work and has always wanted Fisher to play her mom. They also reached out to Jim True-Frost from “The Wire,” and were stunned that he came on board. O’Sullivan wrote the part specifically for True-Frost but commented that he brought additional layers to the part beyond those in the script.

The discussion also centered on one of the main themes of the film, Bridget’s age. O’Sullivan said that she was 34 at the time she wrote the script, and at this age, you are judged by your success, your marital status, and when you are planning to have a child; because time is running out. In one scene she meets a past acquaintance, who comments on her own geriatric pregnancy at the age of 35.

The film is brilliantly well written and directed as it touches on many relevant topics of the day in a very natural way. O’Sullivan and Thompson are hoping for a 2019 theatrical release, and in this humble writer’s opinion, this is a film that should be considered when award season rolls around as it redefines what a “coming of age” film can be. “Saint Frances” has received critical praise and was recently awarded the Breakthrough Voice Award and the Audience Favorite Award for a narrative film at the SXSW Film Festival.

The second film of opening night was “Greener Grass,” a dark and absurdist comedy, satirizing many aspects of suburban society to an extreme. Prior to the screening, filmmakers Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe embraced a description of the film as the most f**ed up movie of the decade. Both mentioned their upbringing in suburban settings and advised the audience that what they were about to see was “their fault” and that they should “strap themselves in.” They were right. Be sure that you are open to mind-bending possibilities before seeing this film

Patty Babin reporting for Sarah’s Backstage, May 18, 2019.