French Exit Review
Odd, charming and immensely lovable, French Exit is a triumph.
Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a Manhattan socialite known as much for her acerbic wit and unusual antics as she is for the rumor that she murdered her late husband. Her expensive taste is challenged, however, when her inheritance dwindles to almost nothing. Faced with the prospect of poverty, Frances sells what she can and ups and leaves the city, travelling with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) and her cat to a friend’s apartment in Paris. There, she seems intent on whiling away what’s left of her inheritance before eventually killing herself when the money runs out.
Directed by Azazel Jacobs, French Exit is undoubtedly a polarising film. There’s no question this movie won’t be for everyone, with it’s slow pace, it’s ad hoc indulgence in the surreal and strange, and it’s Wes Anderson-esque humor. At the same time, however, for every viewer who can’t stand it’s style, they’ll be another so in love with it as to forgive the storytelling flaws in favour of what is a cohesive and engaging vibe.
The most impressive thing about this film is without a doubt Pfeiffer’s performance. Acerbic, antagonistic, utterly classy, and truly aloof, Pfeiffer’s Frances Price is a blend of drug-addled swaying a la Jack Sparrow, Miranda Priestly-esque one liners, and a wardrobe that screams colour blocked French Fashion Week haul. It’s a character one could be utterly obsessed with, and it is elevated by a performance from Pfeiffer that screams her talent from the rooftop - one that makes the Oscar snub a truly abhorrent occurrence.
Hedges performs admirably too, bringing an disquieting strangeness, stillness and acceptance to his character that counterbalances Frances’ wilder impulses. The rest of the cast then starts to take on less complex, more one-dimensional characters - Madame Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey) is the overbearing, lonely widower, Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald) is the strange, street urchin medium, and Susan (Imogen Poots) is the commitment-seeking adorer of Malcolm. Alas, all of their performances are entirely outstripped and overshadowed by Pfeiffer’s, for better or worse.
There’s a peculiar and intriguing colouring to the picture, and sense of cinematography, that almost begins to mimic some of Wes Anderson’s pieces. That’s not a bad thing, because while the first 40 minutes of the film are relatively standard storywise, the back half of the picture truly takes on an absurdist lens - a talking cat, and odd bunch dynamic in the flat, and the final stroll from Frances, all have Anderson-esque overtones. It is also an engagingly funny film, and there are genuine laugh out loud moments strewn throughout.
This isn’t a movie for everyone, but for those with the taste for great scriptwriting, a showstopping performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, and slightly absurdist and witty comedy, this could be the movie of the year.
French Exit is unapologetically niche, but undeniably a gorgeous, hilarious and engaging piece of cinema.