FRENCH EXIT (2021) – Review
Hey, have you “re-couped” after last week’s virtual comic trek along the East Coast, which despite its title I didn’t consider at all a BAD TRIP? Feeling a bit more adventurous, enough to leave the good ole’ US of A? Well, the “Silver Screen Travel Agency’ has an excursion that might be the cure to your “lock-down” laments. Let’s get those virtual bags re-packed, ’cause the movies are taking us over Spring Break to one of the jewels of Europe, Oh and you’ll be in the company of one of the true cinema goddesses, a talented beauty who has mesmerized movie audiences for five decades now. Quite a “clincher”, eh? She’s our guide and a teacher who can train us on how to execute the perfect FRENCH EXIT.
But before we meet her character, we’re first introduced to her movie son. Malcolm Price (Lucas Hedges) is part of Manhattan’s elite, a drifting twenty-something who can’t be bothered with employment, which would take time away from his “non-committal” relationship with the ever-patient Susan (Imogen Poots). In a flashback, we learn that his big parental influencer is his eccentric glamorous mother Frances (Michelle Pfieffer). He became her constant companion soon after the passing of his father, her hubby Franklin. That’s when she scooped up pre-teen Malcolm and “busted” him out of a snooty prep school. And now things are going to change. After constant pleading with her, the family accountant informs Frances that Franklin’s “financial legacy” has almost evaporated. What to do now? Luckily a close friend offers a radical solution. After liquidating the assets of the plush Price NYC home, Frances and Malcolm can live in the spacious apartment she keeps in Paris. After Malcolm dismisses Susan over the phone, he joins his mother at the harbor loading gate. If they can smuggle in their family’s newest addition, a pet black cat that Frances insists is Franklin reincarnated (it speaks to her in his voice, which sounds just like actor/playwriter Tracy Letts), the two will travel across the Atlantic in a luxury cruise ship. Onboard, Malcolm has a romantic fling with the ship’s “entertainer”, Madeline the Medium (Danielle Macdonald). Upon arrival, the Prices occupy their temporary, loaned new home. Soon they begin collecting a group of new friends and acquaintances including another displaced American, Mme Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey), and quiet intellectual Julius (Isaach De Bankole). Eventually, their lush apartment will include the fired Madeline and Malcolm’s ex Susan who brings along her annoyed preppy boyfriend Tom (Daniel di Tomasso) in her quest for “closure”. They’re all part of the new world that Frances has made for herself and her son.
Since her film roles have been a tad sporadic (sometimes a new project every other year) and of a supporting nature (a small part of the Marvel Studios flicks), Ms. Pfeiffer’s decision to take the lead in this current release is ample cause for celebration. The camera still adores her, helping to draw us in to savor her impeccable line delivery as she recalls the charisma of the icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Although she’s always a delight, Frances is just not worthy of her precious time and talents. Perhaps she’s intended as a modern “spin” on the unconventional matriarch in AUNTIE MAME, but the widowed Price is often a spiteful indulgent arrested adolescent. She seems to aimlessly drift from one situation to the next, her half-opened eyes hidden in a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke. Pfieffer deserves so much more. The character’s casual irresponsibility extends to her son Malcolm who seems to be in a near-constant stupor, an accessory to Frances’ chic fashion ensemble. Hedges plays him with a cool disaffected demeanor but feels too detached. Hopefully, Mr. Hedges will tell his “people” to pass on another role as the escort of an actress “of a certain age” as they embark on an ocean cruise (feels like we just saw him with Meryl Streep in LET THEM ALL TALK). It’s hard to understand his “fling” with Madeline, a character that drains the delightful energy and infectious charm of the usually compelling Ms. Macdonald. At least she fares better than Poots who does her best to bring life to Malcolm’s ex Susan whose intense devotion is so puzzling. A similar loyalty engulfs Mme. Reynard, a character who’s little more than a doormat for the Price duo, and doesn’t make use of the deft comic skills of Mahaffey.
Director Azazel Jacobs makes excellent use of the locations, beginning in NYC, highlighting the excesses of the cruise ship before the wonders of Paris. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to inject much energy into the meandering script by Patrick DeWitt, who adapts his novel. They want us to embrace the Price family as nonconformist rebels who push against those boring “norms”, but the two really come off as spoiled brats sneering at the “worker drones”: the family accountant, the school headmaster, and a hapless waiter (Frances actually starts a fire at the dining table). This attitude is countered by Frances treating the street dwellers as nobility, showering the panhandlers with cash that could be used to reimburse those that have extended a hand to them (living rent-free, for instance). And though Pfieffer can be a truly delightful diva (still the best movie Catwoman ever), after spending nearly two hours with the Prices, you’ll be more than ready to make a hasty FRENCH EXIT.
1.5 Out of 4
FRENCH EXIT opens in select theatres everywhere and screens exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas and the Hi-Pointe Theatre on Friday, April 2, 2021.