I didn’t know I needed a film starring both Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges. That pairing alone was worth quadruple the amount I paid to watch it. I’ve loved Michelle Pfeiffer ever since I first saw her as Selina Kyle / Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) and I’ve been *in love* with Lucas Hedges since his breakthrough performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (2016). That love was further cemented by seeing him in films like Lady Bird (2017), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and Boy Erased (2018). In this house, we love boys who can pull off pathos.
French Exit (2020) is based on the novel of the same name written by Patrick deWitt and published in 2018. Let me just say that for everything this film lacks in narrative clarity and overall believability, it more than makes up for with its impeccable acting, effervescent cinematography, and stylistic panache.
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Frances Price, a Manhattan socialite who learns that her well of money has run dry. When asked by her financial advisor what she had planned to do once the money ran out (we learn that this had been coming for quite some time), she replies, “My plan was to die before the money ran out.”
A childhood friend of Frances’s offers her and her adult son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) the use of her unoccupied Paris apartment for however long they may need it, ostensibly with no strings attached. Ah, to be a member of the haute bourgeoisie, where even in the midst of financial ruin one can scrounge up a chic Paris apartment to exile in.
Watching this film, one gets the feeling that Malcolm thinks he’s his mother’s antithesis, but they are alike in so many ways. For one, they are both codependent to an almost Hitchcockian degree and totally inept at navigating life outside their relationship with each other. Malcolm is adrift in a way only an over-educated trust fund kid can be. Commitment-shy and solipsistic, he frustrates his girlfriend, who unlike him has had to live in the real world while he spent his formative years glancing down on commoners from the ivory tower he shared with his mother. When he informs her that he is moving to Paris, most likely indefinitely, she breaks things off and their relationship ends (here, at least) on a sour note.
Frances illegally sells what she can of her possessions “under the table”, creating a small nest egg that can sustain them until such time as they gain their bearings. Michelle Pfeiffer was made for this role. She carries herself in a way only someone accustomed to both money and high-class behavior can.
Their time on the boat to Paris and in the City of Love itself is spent collecting a coterie of companions just as neurotic and maladjusted as themselves, which muddles the narrative just as much as it imbues it with charm.
My overall take? I loved it. It’s not going to win any Oscars, not by a long shot, but for indie-loving arthouse-blowhards like yours truly, it hits the spot.
P.S. The family cat is also Malcolm’s dad. 😮👻🐱
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