Michelle Pfeiffer is a hit, but the movie is a miss.
Lucas Hedges has earned himself an honorable name as one of Hollywood’s rising new stars. He has appeared in a few movies like “The Zero Theorem” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” but has gained more recognition with “Manchester by the Sea,” “LadyBird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Boy Erased,” “Mid-90s,” “Ben is Back,” “Honey Boy,” “Waves,” and “Let Them All Talk.” But his first collaboration with director Azazel Jacobs in his latest comedy “French Exit” isn’t up to those high standards.
Most of the hits come from Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays a kooky Manhattan widow named Francis Price. She’s on the brink of bankruptcy, and her only hope is to not only sell her expensive things, but to move into a friend’s apartment in Paris. She delivers a zany tone and passionate dialogue about how she contemplates suicide, given the money circumstances and the sad state of her life. An example of her behavior is when she’s eating in a restaurant, and is waiting for her check. The waiter is so inconsiderate, that she resorts to setting the table flower on fire.
Her son Malcolm (Hedges) is engaged to Susan (Imogene Poots), who is appalled by his decision to not tell his mother yet and that he must join his mother in the City of Lights. And they also bring along a black cat, who happens to be Francis’ reincarnated husband Frank (Tracey Letts provides his internal thoughts), and about an hour into the movie, he runs away after he senses that she wants to kill him.
Also in the story is Danielle Macdonald as a ship casino fortune teller named Madeleine, whom Malcolm has a thing for; Valerie Mahaffey as another former New Yorker named Mme. Reynard, who is eager to become friends with the Prices, and is confused by the cat’s real identity; and Isaach de Bankole as a French private investigator, whom the Prices hire top seek out Madeleine, who may or may not know the whereabouts of the cat.
When the investigator finds the fortune teller, the group engage in a seance ritual, where they’re able to speak to Frank. It doesn’t go too well, because of Malcolm’s hatred for him. I was interested in how it plays out with Letts speaking through the candle light, more so than I was when after that, their friend Joan from New York (Susan Coyne), the investigator, Susan, and her old fiancee Tom (Daniel di Tomasso) crash at Reynard’s house.
I saw “French Exit” on the New York Film Festival’s virtual screening last October, and I needed time to process my reactions towards this movie. Pfeiffer is well casted as a socialite on the verge of bankruptcy, and I really enjoyed the seance rituals, when she talks to her feline husband. Letts does a professional job voicing a man’s soul inside a cat’s body, and you’re able to find the levity inside, but there isn’t much pay-off in this subplot, other than the wife blowing the candle out when she’s done talking to him.
The movie also provides characters with confusing structures and less to work with. Hedges doesn’t provide the charms he usually offers, and his would-be love story is all cut-and-paste, especially his cancelled engagement. Poots and Macdonald never shake things up other than the latter’s seance rituals. And de Bankole is so thinly written that you wonder why he’s sleeping over with the other characters.
The last film Jacobs made was “The Lovers,” which was one of the best marriage stories I’ve seen in the past decade. His new film “French Exit” lacks the creativity and emotions of that film.
In Select Theaters This Friday