French Exit (M) - 113 minutes
Michelle Pfeiffer – a love story. That is, I love seeing her dominate on the big screen.
And that she does in a decidedly quirky tale, which is a mixture of Woody Allen, The Addams Family and Wes Anderson.
Pfeiffer’s commanding presence here is unforgettable. She positively revels in the glory as a leading lady par excellence.
Pfeiffer plays ageing Manhattan socialite Frances Price.
As her accountant says in one scene, they broke the mould when they made her.
For you see, she doesn’t play by society’s genteel rules.
She lives life her way and always has.
She and her husband didn’t see eye to eye and one day, many years ago, he died of a cardiac arrest.
Sitting on his chest was a thin, jet black cat, which – even though she doesn’t like felines – she has doted over ever since.
Still, she left her dead husband on the bed for days before calling the authorities.
That prickly union resulted in an unexpected child, Malcolm, who neither seemed particularly invested in.
Frances first struck up a relationship with the boy when she pulled him out of school at age 12, after her husband passed away.
Now an adult himself – Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) – generally passively sits by while he watches his mother do her thing.
That “thing” is designed to get attention and she is particularly good at it.
She calls others out and cuts to the chase ... time and again.
Malcolm is engaged to Susan (Imogen Poots), but, afraid of his mother’s reaction, he can never seem to find the right time to tell her.
On the verge of bankruptcy, Frances is offered a lifeline by way of an apartment in Paris by her best friend, Joan (Susan Coyne).
So, with no other choice, Frances withdraws all her remaining funds, purchases a swish cabin for her, her son and her cat and sets sail.
By then, Susan has given Malcolm his marching orders after he reveals his mother’s plans, which also involve him.
En route to the French capital, Malcolm takes more than a passing interest in a clairvoyant aboard the ship (Danielle Macdonald).
Upon arrival, Frances – who has come with several bundles of US$100 bills – readily finds ways to fritter and give away her remaining funds.
She appears to foresee her impending demise, about which she speaks matter of factly.
She is contacted by a lonely widow, Madame Reynard (Valerie Mahaffey), who is in desperate need of companionship and despite a rocky start, ingratiates herself into Frances’ life.
Suddenly, Frances’ black cat runs away ... and she engages the services of a private eye (Isaach De Bankole) and the clairvoyant from the ship to try to track him down.
Then Malcolm’s ex shows up with her former fiancé, Tom (Daniel di Tomasso), who doesn’t appreciate Malcolm having phoned Susan to reconnect.
Finally, after a seeming cry for help, Frances’ best friend Joan also puts in a sudden appearance.
By then, her flat is populated by no less than eight people.
As they say in French, sacré bleu.
Patrick DeWitt has adapted his book for theatrical release, for which Azazel Jacobs (The Lovers) takes the reigns as director.
In novel terms, French Exit is a real page turner.
You have no idea what is going to turn up next, nor how it will end.
Still, it is difficult not to admire the potency of the journey when it comes to the litany of smart one liners and retorts, which I relished.
Arguably, at 110 minutes it is a tad too long and meandering, but I enjoyed investing in the characters.
I have already spoken in glowing terms about Pfeiffer, but she isn’t the only one who leaves a mark.
Hedges stillness and poker face can’t be ignored, while Poots, as Susan, calling out Malcolm is another highlight.
I also appreciated Mahaffey as an increasingly confident Madame and Macdonald as the straight-talking clairvoyant.
I dare say French Exit is a film that is likely to polarise for it is decidedly obtuse.
The ending remains open to interpretation, which I certainly didn’t mind.
Overall, I derived much joy and plenty of laughs from it.
Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.