SXSW 2019: Frances Ferguson

Kaley Wheless appears as the title character in Bob Byington's FRANCES FERGUSON, narrated by Nick Offerman. Photo Credit: Carmen Hilbert

Frances Ferguson is somehow able to find the funny when it comes to a substitute teacher misappropriating her power of authority.

Frances (Kaley Wheless) is in an unhappy marriage to Nick (Jake French) even though they share a daughter, Parfait (Ella Dolan).  Her relationship to her mother, Ellen (Jennifer Prediger), has been on life support ever since her father died some years before.

Maybe it is because of the situation at home but Frances makes some bad decisions.  While substituting for the AP Bio class, Frances sets her eye on one of the students, Jake (Keith Poulson).  Even though she’s in her mid-20s, she ought to know that this is wrong on every level.  Yet she can’t help but go ahead with it.  She goes as far as to take out her old cheer-leading uniform if it means being able to meet in public!  All the while narrator Nick Offerman keeps asking if what she was doing is breaking the law.

Cue an arrest, a pair of detectives (Jack Marshall, Yoko Lawing), and the next thing we know, Frances is on trial.  Because this film is under 90 minutes, Frances’ time in prison is very condensed.  Wisely, filmmakers swiftly move the focus onto her probation and mandatory group therapy.  The group therapy leader (David Krumholtz) makes the best of the situation.  Most of the town has a crack problem so of course, Frances has to ruin the formula.  No matter where she goes, people keep noticing her because of her sex crimes.  This even includes Carmen (Megan Jerabek) during group therapy.

There’s nothing funny about committing a sex crime against a minor.  Yet this film is somehow able to find the funny in this particular situation.  Maybe it’s because the film is set in North Platte, Neb. The town has a population under 25,000.  Of course, it would make sense that people know people.  And those people also know people.  The whole town practically knows everybody.  In a town like this, it is no surprise that Frances Ferguson is all over the news for sex crimes.  It’s honestly a wonder that they’d be able to get a jury not familiar with her case!  In other states, she’d likely be forced to have her trial moved outside of the county.

In deciding to tell this particular narrative, there is something that Frances Ferguson reminds us as viewers.  Sometimes, women–even those in an unhappy marriage–will misuse power to their advantage.  Yes, Frances is an attractive women so any high school boy would be crushing on her but there’s no excuse for her behavior!

DIRECTOR:  Bob Byington
CAST:  Kaley Wheless, Nick Offerman, David Krumholtz, Keith Poulson, Martin Starr, Jennifer Prediger, Jack Marshall, Bill Wise, Yoko Lawing, Dante Harper, John Gatins, and Jake French

Frances Ferguson holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Spotlight section. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.