Directed by Azazel Jacobs and written by Patrick DeWitt, an ageing Manhattan socialite living on what’s barely left of her inheritance moves to a small apartment in Paris with her son and cat. Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Valerie Mahaffey, Susan Coyne, Imogen Poots, Danielle Macdonald and Isaach De Bankolé.
Dark, eccentric and slightly twisted roles are always a joy to see from Michelle Pfeiffer, throwing back to her days of Catwoman. She has the ability to go from a calm to manic energy so quickly and with a brutal icy edge which is so satisfying to watch. There are a few moments that feel as though the script was pushing for something more sentimental which don’t feel in line with the rest of her performance but that’s a comment on the writing. Lucas Hedges brings almost a Jason Schwartzman-esque balance of quirky yet monotone personality. It feels like a sincere throwback to classic American indie cinema, much like the whole film itself, it’s reserved yet surprisingly emotional.
It’s a great ensemble, Danielle Macdonald is a gem who doesn’t get the recognition she deserves for her strong presence. Valerie Mahaffey is a perfect addition with her intense energy and solid level of strange and uncomfortable. On top of a number of different actors with varying levels of involvement in the story but all have something to add.
Patrick DeWitt’s writing is slyly funny and has a lovely dry wit, it’s darkly quirky almost into a black comedy arena but not entirely. However, there are some cracks that appear as time goes on, firstly that its balance of humour and drama isn’t quite consistent enough to keep its energy going till the end. There also feels like a lack of commitment in its storytelling, it dabbles in different elements but never fully sticks with one. The key focus is Pfeiffer’s Frances, but it never spends enough time on her relationship with her son (Hedges) to really get a grasp on it and it’s a shame as right as the film reaches its end, it brings a more emotional connection. Sadly, it has fairly run out of steam by that point.
Jacobs’ style feels very familiar, like a mix of Allen, Anderson and a host of American directors with a taste for the quirky or strange. The cinematography has that love of the city style vibe, with a great use of colour. The costumes and settings are perfect for creating its sense of affluence and extravagance. It’s solid work but doesn’t have many unique qualities.
French Exit has a satisfyingly dark and dry wit, with a superb and slightly twisted performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a great cast and an entertaining story but it starts to lose steam in its second half. It feels as though it didn’t commit to one key focus, meaning none of them get given full justice to their potential. It’s still certainly worth watching, especially for any fans of the quirky or eccentric.