‘French Exit’ Review: Michelle Pfeiffer Makes a Clean Break, Delivering a Role for Which She’ll Be Remembered

Frances Price married well when the concept of success in this department is driven more by financial comfort than romance. Their marriage wasn't as loveless as it was greedy, and it works better for wealthy Manhattan woman Michelle Pfeiffer, who so memorably embodies Jacobs' "French Exit," a nifty graduation election for this year's virtual hybrid New York film is festival that the author of "The Sisters Brothers", Patrick deWitt, adapted from his own novel.
After the death of her husband, whose body she allowed to rot for several days to give time for a short ski vacation in Vail before reporting him to authorities, Frances pulled her son Malcolm out of boarding school and drove him home in her silver one Rolls-Royce and decided to express an interest in his life. "Have you been drinking to the brink of reasonable thinking?" A dozen years later, she questions her son (now a grumpy young man played by Lucas Hedges) and raises the question over breakfast in a formal dining room big enough for at least 10 guests. "Menstruation?" she asks when he doesn't answer much.
That afternoon, Frances' accountant arrives with bad news: it appears that she has exhausted her legacy. Of course she has no plan. "My plan was to die before my money ran out," says Frances with a nihilistic sigh. "But I held and didn't die." In circles like Frances, people talk in euphemisms and hypocrisy. Her husband's death was "premature," but in a way, Frances is more like it because it didn't come soon enough. She outlived her means and now she has to sell her things and take her money and her son and cat to Paris, where one of her few true friends has offered her the use of an apartment. (The cat they named Small Frank may or may not be obsessed with Frances's late husband.)
If this all sounds too far from the reality most of us experience, don't let it discourage you. Yes, "French Exit" bubbles in the dilute air of Tom Wolfe or Whit Stillman, but it goes well with the malicious glee of "Schitt's Creek". Frances is nothing more than a perfect Dorothy Parker character, and in Pfeiffer's hands - or in her clutches, one might say - the privilege seldom seemed so delicious, even when trying to make some necessary savings. That means no driver, no maid, no bottomless supply of champagne. Imagine the humiliation of having to move to Paris after Manhattan became untenable!
Certainly there is a more serious way to face the situation of prices, but Jacobs and deWitt wisely opt for ironic satire instead and deliver Pfeiffer the role she has been missing all these years: not a diva, but an elegant, legitimate and malicious articulation socialite. We got a glimpse into "Murder on the Orient Express" and saw more concentrated camp showcases of her in both "Stardust" and "Batman Returns". But here is a figure who is both larger than life and undeniably, recognizably real, and it is the way in which Pfeiffer bases Frances' self-perception into what she may have lived before their marriage that deWitt's description of this portrait deserved as "a tragedy of manners". ”
In the face of such performances - that is, the steak that makes an actor's entire career seem like a long starter in retrospect - Oscar predictors like to speculate about which scene the academy will contain if the names of the nominees are read shortly beforehand Open envelope. You could select any page from Pfeiffer's playbook here, every non-fatal squint, grin or admission is so well calibrated (because there are moments of blinding sincerity), although I'm interested in a vignette in a French restaurant. Malcolm gets up and politely asks the waiter for the check. Then the man, who cannot be disturbed, decides to take his cigarette break. Frances looks at him from across the dining room, takes a bottle of perfume from her purse, sprinkles the small bouquet on the table, quietly flicks her cigarette lighter, and sets it on fire.
That second, when the waiter rushes over to put out the fire, it doesn't matter how you feel about the great gap between the owners and the non-owners. It is undeniably delicious to watch a woman like Frances disobey the rules. Although she is now to the end of her fortune and has liquidated everything for a few stacks of euros, she has not changed her spending habits. Frances is still paying for a coffee shop with a hundred euro bill, and at some point, pretty late in the movie, she seems motivated to give away what's left.
DeWitt's script doesn't deviate far from his novel until the end and chooses to be a little shy about Frances' fate - as well as what becomes of the cat she and Malcolm with through a medium (Danielle Macdonald) communicate encountered on the transatlantic boat trip. The movie's approach is the stronger and leads to a poignant ambiguity (which can easily be resolved by consulting the book or speaking verbatim about its title). Patrick deWitt's older brother Nick helps in this department and provides the simple piano motif that brightens the darkness.
In the midst of it all, Malcolm came across like a bystander in his own life, faintly annoyed at the way Frances waited until widowhood to be involved as a mother. Having Malcolm around kept her young, but what does he have to show for that? Here, as in director Jacobs' "Momma's Man," another adult is unable to break his mother's attraction. Malcolm is engaged but can't bring himself to tell Frances and his boy that they are surprised when his inexplicably patient fiancée (Imogen Poots) shows up in Paris.
It's clear that Malcolm can't go on until Frances lets go, and Hedges - who appears embarrassed and shaggy here - handles this lack of backbone well. Apathy is often more nuanced than it looks, and Hedges (whose intuition exceeds that of most actors his age) has a knack for underestimating complex characters, which is exactly the right way to counter Pfeiffer's dominant persona. Hiding behind a napkin in an important confrontation, Hedges draws a line between Malcolm's generation and that of Benjamin Braddock, who dove into the pool to escape the world in "The Graduate".
So much of “French Exit” borders on farce, especially when the mother and son begin to fill the rented apartment with a number of eccentrics, including Isaach De Bankolé as a private detective and Valerie Mahaffey as a particularly pathetic widow. Reynard. Though unexpected, pathos is perhaps the tone for such a group portrait, and Jacobs and deWitt temper the mounting absurdity (portrayed by Tracy Letts as the voice of Small Frank) with just the right amount of melancholy as Frances burns through her last reserves. Whether drunk throwing kitchen knives or sober men put in their place, Pfeiffer makes sure that the audience doesn't forget Frances so quickly. She comes up strong, makes an impression and aptly slips away without saying goodbye.
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