French Exit (2020)

AZAZEL JACOBS

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

//, 2020. , , , , , , . Screenplay by , based on his book. Cinematography by . Produced by , , , , , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Patrick DeWitt adapts his bestselling novel to the screen and it results in a melancholy comedy whose various pieces are thrilling but don’t all connect to something sturdy.  Michelle Pfeiffer gives one of her most exciting performances in years, putting across the kind of low-burn amorality we haven’t enjoyed she played Catwoman twenty-nine years earlier; diminished not one bit in the time since, she plays a New York society matron who is informed by her financial advisor that the money she inherited from her late husband () is about to run out. Making the sudden decision to pack up her Manhattan life, she grabs her disaffected son (Lucas Hedges) and heads to Paris where her best friend () has offered to let her stay in her apartment for free, presumably to get away from being impoverished in front of her peers but actually for much darker reasons. Toting her pet cat and stacks of her last remaining cash, mother and son cross by ocean voyage (Hedges’ second on film this year), during which he has a brief sexual fling with a depressed fortune teller (). Arriving in the City of Lights, Pfeiffer holes up in her new digs and her much slower pace of life forces her to face what she has been avoiding the most, the emotional residue of her husband’s death; the circumstances of his passing having been treated with speculation and suspicion and affected her relationship with her once-estranged son. Thinking she can waste away peacefully until her last dollar remains, our cruelly glamorous heroine throws large amounts of cash at the slightest whim before suddenly finding her apartment flummoxed with visitors that she can’t shake, from a new friend and former fellow New Yorker (a superb ), Hedges’ on-again off-again girlfriend (), her obnoxious new boyfriend (), best friend Coyne, a private detective ( in rare, lighthearted form) and Macdonald, whom they have hired him to find. With so many elements that all feel like cinematic treats it’s hard to imagine that this film wouldn’t make a lasting impression, but other than the pleasure of seeing the great star still performing at the top of her game, there’s not much else here that sticks. The relationships often feel like they’re going to delve deeper into their conflicts than they actually do but much is left unfinished and unexplained (why does everyone have to sleep over? Why is the money gone?)  Mother and son go particularly unexamined, and while the story includes a supernatural element that is treated as a calm and practical reality, it feels illogically indulgent and, perhaps, worked better on the page. Director Azazel Jacobs, who nailed the deadpan humour of his 2008 comedy Momma’s Man, doesn’t succeed at bringing literary caprice to life this time, and the conclusion feels forced, but Pfeiffer fans should still make this film a very high priority: the sight of her setting a table setting on fire just to get a waiter’s attention is worth the price of admission alone.

Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Michelle Pfeiffer)

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