French ExitReviewed By Lybarger
Posted 04/02/21 14:00:00
(Worth A Look)
There’s not much of a plotline in this new adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel. You don’t need one if you have Michelle Pfeiffer expertly delivering the author’s verbal barbs.French Exit rests on her sturdy shoulders and DeWit’s wordplay, so dramatic flourishes aren’t necessary. There are plenty of terrific supporting turns, but Pfeiffer’s virtuosity at making a caustic role palatable is more than worth the ticket price.
She plays Frances Price, a woman who once got away with flouting convention because she could afford to alienate officials at her son’s private school. When your basic needs have been met several times over, being polite to others is optional.
Unfortunately for Frances and her now grown son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges), the cash hasn’t been able to keep up with her pugnacious attitude. The bank is about to foreclose on their well-furnished Manhattan apartment, and selling their possessions is about the only way they can afford to eat. Neither has developed job skills or much in the way of a practical education.
Malcolm wants to tell his mother about his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots), but the engagement will have to wait, even if Susan can’t.
Frances can probably count her friends on the fingers of one hand if one or two digits are amputated. Nonetheless, a fellow socialite happens to have a vacant flat in Paris and happily loans it to her and Malcolm until their fortunes improve.
DeWitt uses the move to introduce Frances and Malcolm to fellow expatriate Americans with quirks of their own. One, Mme. Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey) invites them to a soiree where the Prices are the only guests. They also seek help from a fortune teller named Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald), whose predictions of doom are astonishingly accurate. She can also communicate with the dead and with animals.
Despite these impressive gifts, she works for a cruise line. That may be because her prophesies are accurate but not terribly pleasant.
DeWitt is best known for writing the novel for The Sisters Brothers, and he specializes in characters who are just a little bit off. It’s hard to tell if French Exit has more to offer than jolts and wisecracks, but for much of the running time they are more than sufficient.
Some of the backstory that explains how Frances and Malcolm came to live in a borrowed apartment is intriguing. Apparently, following the rules has never worked for Frances in the past, and the voice that accompanies Madeleine’s seances is provided by an appropriately cranky Tracy Letts.
While Malcolm and Frances do grow and change as French Exit progresses, the ending arrive almost arbitrarily as if director Azazel Jacobs had simply stopped filming DeWitt’s script on a randomly selected page. Paris is comparable to New York in being a pricey place to live, so one wonders how long the Prices can stay there even if they don’t have to pay rent. That may explain Frances’ fatalistic attitude.
After, a “French exit” is to leave an event without saying goodbye.If Pfeiffer leaves the screen abruptly, at least she makes an impression that lasts long after the movie ends.
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