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Michelle Pfeiffer dazzles in unique, stylish ‘French Exit’ | NYFF 2020

Michelle Pfeiffer dazzles in unique, stylish ‘French Exit’ | NYFF 2020

Michelle Pfeiffer dazzles in unique, stylish ‘French Exit’ | NYFF 2020
October 10
21:00 2020

“Because you were your father. So ruinous.”

French Exit” follows mother and son — Michelle Pfeiffer‘s Frances and Lucas Hedges‘ Malcolm — as they navigate their newfound life in Paris after they are forced to relocate there when the inheritance that Frances has been living on from her dead husband begins to run out.

Director Azazel Jacobs imbues some interesting tones throughout “French Exit,” but the most impressive thing he does is balance all of the tones together, never monopolizing one over the other. I hesitate to throw out the ‘auteur’ moniker so quickly, but Jacobs’ balancing of tones so effectively coupled up with his very stylish eye only pushes me further into proclaiming Jacobs as an auteur so easily.

As for these tones, “French Exit” has glimpses of drama, romance and surprisingly, even supernatural. The supernatural overtones comes as a surprise here, but they never feel out place, which is shocking considering a single glance of the promotional material of this film would never point to anything supernatural. Where these supernatural elements come in are when Frances and Danielle Macdonald’s Madeline, the self-proclaimed witch, hold a couple of séances to speak to Frances’ dead husband. While the supernatural elements are present only here, these are also some of the funniest scenes in the film thanks to hilarious voiceover work from Tracy Letts as Frank, the famed dead husband. It also helps that Pfeiffer seems to have natural chemistry with just about everyone onscreen, even Letts, who is only featured in the film via his voiceover.

On the subject of onscreen chemistry, Hedges and Macdonald also have electric chemistry together. We meet Madeline when Frances and Malcolm are on a cruise ship heading to Paris after Frances gets the news of her dwindling inheritance. Through drinks and an eventual hookup, we then learn of Madeline’s self-proclamation as a witch. After this hookup, however, Madeline swears off Malcolm in an emotional outburst, fully encapsulating the talent of Macdonald, who deserves any role that comes her way (watch 2017’s Patti Cake$ if you really want to see her flex her talents). It is not until later when Pfeiffer loses her trusty cat that Madeline is brought back in by a private investigator.

That small description of a small subset of the film can seem like a bunch of random scenes that do not make much sense narratively, but as they unfold, the scenes all come together organically, becoming increasingly entertaining and unique as it progresses. This is all helped of course by Pfeiffer’s glamourous, dazzling performance. Pfeiffer never left us thankfully, but recently it seems as if she is having her own type of fruitful renaissance and we should all be thankful for it. Pfeiffer is one of Hollywood’s greatest, so it fills me with so much joy that she is still turning out performances as fantastic as this one.

“French Exit” is like watching a recreation of a French New Wave film, from its wholly auteur vision to its scenes of characters taking long drags of their cigarettes and larger gulps of their wine. Sure, it could have had a tighter runtime, but I was utterly content in following Michelle Pfeiffer and her cat through the smoke-filled hallways and alleyways of Paris.

Final rating: 4/5

“French Exit” will be released in the US on February 12, 2021.

This film was screened virtually as part of the 58th annual New York Film Festival by the reviewer.

Featured image: Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

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Spencer Kain

Spencer Kain

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