A French exit is considered slang for withdrawing an engagement or position without first signaling your intentions or saying your goodbye as you depart.
Knowing this, ‘French Exit,’ directed by ‘The Lovers’ Azazel Jacobs, is the perfect name for this film, where that very thing happens several times by people who seemingly have no empathy. This movie is adapted from Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name and makes for an entertaining watch. He also wrote the script, so the voice truly is deWitt’s. The story is about trying to escape all obstacles in life when you can no longer handle them. We can’t all run away to Paris when that happens, but our main character here does, something you can tell she’s used to doing. This time, she takes her son with her.
Our main character is the gorgeous and glamorous Manhattan socialite, Frances Price, now in her sixties and not too thrilled about it. Think Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ Michelle Pheiffer plays her as frigid and heartless as I’ve ever seen. Frances is a narcissist who can’t see the needs or wants of anyone exceeding her own. She’s haughty, spoiled and detached; therefore, her time only goes to herself. That is until later in life when Frances picks up, more like breaks her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) free from his private school. She yanks him out early, finally welcoming him into her life and her home.
However, that’s for her, too. She needed the boy because her husband Frank had just died, and she didn’t want to be alone. Well, alone might not be the right word. A cat entered the picture. The cat. He’s probably the most enticing part of the film, actually. After she finds him, she names him ‘Small Frank’ after her deceased husband. Outside of some wildly eccentric behavior from some of the cast, everything to do with this cat is essential to the film’s success. He hit all of his marks. This is also where most of the comedy comes in. Actor Tracy Letts, who was in Azazel Jacobs’ film ‘The Lovers,’ voices the black kitty who slinks around as if he owns the world. The shots of him moving about the apartments, seemingly getting into trouble, with the intent to do just that, are brilliant.
As I’ve mentioned, when we meet Frances, Frank is already no longer with us. Ever since his death, she has done the one thing that fulfills her emptiness the most. Spend money. Never one to listen to the advice of others, she learns from her financial planner that the well has finally dried up, something he has warned her was going to happen. He advises her to sell everything she owns. Breaking this horrible news to someone aware of the world would be devastating, but not to someone who knows she’ll find a way out of it somehow, or at least thinks she will. She always has, after all. He asks her why she had refused to listen to his warnings. She remarks, ‘My plan was to die before the money ran out.’ Since this didn’t happen, she does sell everything. To a friend’s apartment, she and Malcolm go. With a dwindling pile of cash, she makes the best of it. In fact, with no intentions of sticking around once it’s gone, she does everything she can to make the pile dwindle as quickly as possible.
Having been a member of the high-society elite in New York, she ends up running into a groupie of sorts named Madame Reynard, played by the fabulous Valerie Mahaffey. Frances humors her and has dinner with Reynard. Soon, she and Malcolm bring together a menagerie of misfits, all very needy, none more vulnerable than they themselves. They all end up friends, feeding off of one another. The dialogue between some of the characters, especially Frances and Reynard, makes the movie a must-watch. Well, next to the cat, of course. Oh, that cat is a treasure.
Though the pacing can be somewhat tedious, Nicholas deWitt’s score humming through your speakers places you in Paris with fascinating characters who are fabulously well written. They’re preposterous, but that’s what will make the film a delightful and amusing choice for you this weekend.
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Writers: Patrick DeWitt (based on the book by), Patrick DeWitt
Stars: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Danielle Macdonald, Imogen Poots, Valerie Mahaffey, Tracy Letts
Running Time: 1h 50m
Genres: Comedy, Drama