NYFF REVIEW: FRENCH EXIT (2020)

“My plan was to die before the money ran out.”

There are many of us that through our sadness, traumatic, and fearful moments in life, turn to humor as a coping mechanism to get us through whatever we may be facing. Personally, my family and I still laugh at certain jokes that were born from a time that was troubling. French Exit, a film from Azazel Jacobs, shows the human rollercoaster of emotions through an upper-class family who has just lost everything.

Based on the novel by Patrick DeWitt, French Exit tells the story of Francis (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Malcolm Price (Lucas Hedges) — a mother and son who live their luxurious life in the upper east side of New York City. The pair exudes bourgeoisie, though their personalities are far from normal. When faced with a financial hardship, birthed from the patriarch’s demise years earlier, Francis and Malcolm turn to each other and head to Paris, France, in an effort to escape the glaring looks from fellow socialites who were once their “friends.” Francis and Malcolm, along with their trusty black cat, embark on a new life while examining their often cold relationship towards one another.

Francis is a melancholy woman, who radiates sheer elegance at the look of her. Her fur coat embraces her and fights off the chilling New York winter. Though the look of her may be pristine, Francis is an odd woman. The rumors of her husband’s death surrounds her, but in no way does that stop her from being who she is. And more importantly, she doesn’t take disrespect from anyone — the waiter in the tiny French café can attest to that. Pfeiffer may be on her way to capturing that golden Oscar, as her performance of Francis is near perfection. To be honest, there is always an aura of elegance surrounding Pfeiffer in nearly every picture she’s in. But like so many have said before me, Pfeiffer flawlessly steps into this character. But it’s Francis’ relationship with her son that is firmly rooted in the film. Hedges is his most quirky self as Malcom. Because the relationship between Francis and Malcom is deeply frayed, I saw the film through his eyes, as he tries to peel back the mystery of his mother. Pfeiffer and Hedges are a brilliant duo, and a believable mother and son.

The lavish Paris scenery may have its input into making French Exit all the worth more seeing. That and the lavish lifestyle the Price’s hold, if only a moment. But take all that out of the equation, and you’d still have a deeply moving film. The story, as I see it, is not at all about where Francis has come from, but where she is and where she is going. Being catapulted from the lifestyle that she’s become accustomed to is jolting. But we as humans, though we may never have the amount of riches of the Price family, can easily relate to the dark times we’ve been through — those people that we are drawn to in those times. What’s important about French Exit is the heart behind these characters, and the heartache that they face, is what so many of us go through at one point in our lives. Which if you look at it, makes it the perfect movie to encompass the year that we’re living now. From the trauma we’ve faced, especially this year, how has it changed us to become more empathetic, and how has it caused us to evaluate the relationships that we hold dear?

French Exit provides a vehicle for which to land Pfeiffer a possible Oscar win. I refuse to count her out, and no doubt will she be on the shortlist of best actress nominations. Though French Exit, as a whole, may find itself overlooked come Oscar season, it’s still an impactful film that accurately portrays the flood of emotions that come alongside pain. Azazel is able to compact that energy in the film while also consistently moving it forward. French Exit is not for the faint of heart, nor do I believe that everyone will get a meaning from it. But to contrast those arguments, this is a must-see film that so perfectly dissects the human emotions.

French Exit

Directed by: Azazel Jacobs

Written by: Patrick DeWitt

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots, and Danielle Macdonald

Rating: