“French Exit” has some charm and spirit to be appreciated despite being a bit too flawed in my inconsequential opinion. While it is buoyed to some degree by its delightful lead performance, the movie often stumbles and meanders mainly due to its rather thin narrative and broad characterization, and this weak aspect is still glaring to me even when I reflect on its several nice moments to remember.
Michelle Pfeiffer, who is still exuding her undeniable star presence even though it has been more than 40 years since she made a film debut, plays Frances Price, a carefree Manhattan socialite who has lived with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) for years since her husband’s death. As she is going through another uneventful but luxurious day of hers, she gets a phone call from her estate manager, and her estate manager has a very bad news for her and her son. As her estate manager has warned for last several years, her bank account is totally empty now, and she has no choice but to sell not only her expensive apartment but also every valuable stuff inside it.
Consequently, she and her son become virtually homeless, but there comes an unexpected little help from her close friend Joan (Susan Coyne), who still stands by her best friend as before. Joan happens to own a little apartment in Paris which has been unoccupied for some time, and she is willing to allow Frances and her son to live there at least for a while.
Frances hesitates at first, but she eventually accepts this generous offer from her friend, and we soon see her and her son (and her black cat) on a big transatlantic cruise ship. Although the money from selling everything belonging them is not that much to say the least, Frances still behaves as if nothing was changed in her life at all, and her son quietly nurses his emotional wound from his recent breakup with his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots), but then he finds himself being attracted to a young woman named Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald). Madeleine happens to be working as a medium on the ship, and we later get a small amusing moment when the ship doctor shows Malcolm the bodies of several recently deceased people on the ship including the one whose death was prophesied by Madeleine right before that.
While that apartment in Paris looks much more modest than her previous residence in Manhattan, Frances is ready to settle there, but she does not seem to have any idea on what to do next for herself and her son. When a local neighbor, who has been a widow for years and also actually knew her, approaches to her mainly because of loneliness, she is understandably annoyed a bit at first, but then she accepts this widow’s dinner invitation because, well, there is nothing else to do for her. Although she is a bit bored to be with her new neighbor, she comes to feel a little sorry, and she eventually lets her new neighbor hang around her more.
As Patrick deWitt’s screenplay, which is based on his novel of the same name, leisurely jaunts from one episode to another, several other characters also come to revolve around Frances and her son. When her cat is lost at one point, Frances becomes quite adamant about finding it as soon as possible for a rather absurd personal reason, and she comes to believe that Madeleine will help her on that, though both her and her son do not know where Madeleine is at present. When her new neighbor recommends a local private investigator, Frances does not hesitate at all, and this private investigator gets himself involved with them more than expected. In addition, Susan, who was initially not so interested in starting over with Malcolm as going back to her old boyfriend, comes to change her mind, and that consequently leads to a very awkward circumstance among them and several other people around them later in the story.
This is a fairly good setup for more laughs for us, but the movie somehow fails to generate enough comic momentum to engage us. I enjoyed how it keeps its straight attitude along with its main cast members even during a couple of séance scenes, and I was also amused by a brief scene involved with Frances’ impulsive suicidal letter, but, to my disappointment, the movie is mostly spinning its wheels without much character or narrative development.
At least, director Azazel Jacobs, who previously drew my attention for his small underrated coming-of-age drama film “Terri” (2011), has Pfeiffer and several good performers to notice. While deftly handling her character’s numerous colorful moments in the film, Pfeiffer also lets us have some glimpses of her character’s humanity, and she and Lucas Hedges, who is no stranger to playing youthful characters with emotional issues, click well together during their several key scenes. In case of the other main cast members, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots, Susan Coyne, Danielle Macdonald, and Isaach de Bankolé fill their respective spots as much as demanded, and the special mention goes to that adorable black cat who often steals the show in the movie.
In conclusion, “French Exit” is not entirely without fun, but it did not engage me enough during my viewing, and my mind frequently went somewhere even while my eyes were savoring the game efforts from Pfeiffer and several other main performers in the film. As many of you know, she is still a wonderful actress, and I certainly hope that she will keep going as usual.