24 Mar 2021

Review - French Exit

From At The Movies, 7:33 pm on 24 March 2021

Just after the war, there was a novel about an eccentric New York socialite who traveled Europe with her young nephew Patrick, getting into scrapes in Europe.  Almost forgotten now, Auntie Mame was a sensation at the time, and was turned into not one but two movies – first with Rosalind Russell, and then a musical with Lucille Ball.  

And the spirit of Auntie Mame lingers in French Exit.

French Exit is adapted by another Patrick, Patrick DeWitt from his own novel.

It opens on another socialite, Frances Price, who receives bad news from a boring old banker.  She’s played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She has lost all of her money.

So what to do? Having taken her son Malcolm out of expensive private school, she realizes she’ll have to realise her few assets. Fortunately, one of those is a loyal friend, who offers a free flat in Paris.

This also offers Malcolm a bolt-hole from a relationship that’s going a little fast for him.  Goodbye Susan.

Frances and Malcolm take off for Paris with their limited funds. In fact their funds are now limited to a few bundles of bank-notes that Frances seems keen to get through as quickly as possible.

But that’s not important right now.  What’s most important in French Exit is first - to smuggle Frances’s unlikable cat into the new apartment, and then when the cat runs away - to get hold of someone who can find it.  

Fortunately Frances and Malcolm met an Australian fortune-teller on the boat coming over.

Around about now, you may be suffering a slightly dizzy feeling, as the plot seems to have become somewhat unmoored.  

Perhaps things might settle down a little once Frances and Malcolm make a few friends.  They’ve just been invited to a function by one Madame Reynard.

As always in stories like this – and along with Auntie Mame I was reminded of other New York socialite films from the likes of Wes Anderson and Whit Stillman – it’s partly in the telling, but more in the playing. 

Lucas Hedges as Malcolm, is certainly the go-to guy to play likable young pushovers – he played similar roles in both Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Lady Bird three years ago.  

Here he gets pushed around by everyone – his on-off fiancée Susan, his Australian medium Madeleine, and most of all by his mother.

Michelle Pfeiffer is still stunningly beautiful and this is a gift part for her – if anyone can take on movie Paris at its most arrogant and snobby it’s Michelle. 

But you do have to get used to the film’s idea of a story line.  It doesn’t so much go forwards as stop, start, circle round an idea, then go in an unexpected direction.  If a cat could write a script, this is the script it might write.

A road-movie goes towards a goal, meeting colourful characters along the way.  French Exit is an anti-road movie.  It certainly meets some colourful characters, but they tend to arrive at your front door and move in, whether you want them to or not.

And you warm to them or otherwise, entirely based on their reaction to Frances. If they can tolerate her, then we can tolerate them.

French Exit is one of the few films you regret they’ll never make a sequel to, despite the fact that it’s eminently suitable for one.  Maybe screenwriter Patrick DeWitt could be persuaded to write another book.