There is no way around the fact that I watched this film twice, back-to-back, as I simply loved its mood so much I did not want to let go of it that quickly. Hence, in my books, it’s a perfect fit, something of a whimsy in terms of tempo, but written like it were liquid jazz.
Based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt, French Exit (2020) is scripted by the same author, and that’s most likely why it’s so smooth and hypnotic – there is no dissonance in the voices of its characters, no glitch in its slo-mo rhythm. Director Azazel Jacobs cast Michelle Pfeiffer as the femme fatale of her own derailed life – and just with that stroke of brilliance, made a refined, idiosyncratic story alive with sweet familiarity.
Apparently, the envy/fascination of all NYC’s Upper East Side, Pfeiffer carries the tale of a socialite’s fiscal downfall in her mid-sixties as if it were the libretto for the La Dame aux Camélias, and in a literary way, they are equally as tragic. Chain-smoking her way into oblivion, as the money ran out before she did (her words, not mine) Pfeiffer’s Frances Price is an unlikely heroine to root for, and admire – self-absorbed, brazenly moneyed, absolutely wedded to her status and means, without a single working day in her life, she is equally dignified, bitingly astute, rebellious, and poetic, observing life through the wit of an Oscar Wilde, not a Desperate Housewife (with all respect to the latter).
Her nerdish and perhaps too dedicated a son Malcom is played naturally and soulfully by Lucas Hedges, turning out to be her true saving grace, not just another frivolous lifestyle accessory. However, he is not reason enough for her to snap out of a stubborn refusal to live a life she is not accustomed to living. So Frances cashes in her possessions before the banks close in, and leaves the New York schadenfreude, and inevitable pity party, for Paris, burning wads of dollars in her wake.
As she measures her very breath with money, with this derision towards it, we get to understand just how much Frances has been heartbroken with life. And what living in gilded cage can do to our sense of self.
To understand that limitation is to have compassion with a woman like Frances.
Along this Proustian way, the duo meets exceptionally colourful characters (Valerie Mahaffey as Madame Raynard, and Danielle Macdonald as Madeleine the Medium, most brilliant of the bunch), adopting a cat with a secret identity, and shooting into trans-realist territory seamlessly with ghosts, séances, and telepathy, re-visiting Mrs Price’s old scandals, particularly the one regarding the death of her beloved/despised husband (Tracy Letts), with aplomb.
And then, there’s also the city of Paris, not unlike Frances herself, the last grande dame standing.
Melancholic, world-weary, darkly funny, and strangely lovely, it gifts so much more than it promises, just like its heroine.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov