About midway through the quirky black dramedy, "French Exit," a dead father (Tracy Letts) literally chats with his overlooked adult son (Lucas Hedges) and eccentric wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), via a medium (Danielle Macdonald). They stare at a candle on a table, and as the candle flickers, the dad's voice speaks. Dad may or may not have been reincarnated as a black cat, and the entire ordeal doesn't make even one character bat an eye.
If this scene sounds strange, that's because it is...but it's an oddness isn't entirely earned. And while "French Exit" has moments of sharply written dialogue, and gives Pfeiffer more to chew on than she's had in several decades, the entirety of it feels like a jumbled, tonal mess that never quite materializes into anything worth watching.
Pfeiffer plays Frances Price, a widow who has been living large off of her husband's inheritance. Her son Malcolm (Hedges) is a bit of a doltish coward, who is engaged to his fiancé Susan (Imogen Poots), but who hasn't yet had the courage to tell his mom. Frances meets with her lawyer and he explains that her fortune is running dry...she's about to lose everything. So Frances swoops up her son - and her cat - sells off some of her possessions for cash, and sets off for Paris.
Frances is a deliciously awful character, but Pfeiffer gets us to care about her if not necessarily root for her. They encounter a medium on their cruise to France (why fly when you can afford a transatlantic cruise?) and they come across several other characters during their stay. Nothing really happens...there isn't much here to propel any sort of plot forward...and we're supposed to derive our entertainment out of these tycoons whom have fallen from grace. Come to think of it, it's sort of like "Schitt's Creek" without the laughs, and without the heart.
When they do talk to their loved one via a candle, you realize that the film is going for farce. But by then, you've spent most of your time trying to align with the film's sensibilities and it never quite works or lines up. The film's vibe is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film, but without the confidence or the precision.
"French Exit" is interesting in spurts, spurned along by Pfeiffer and Hedges, who is also pitch-perfect throughout. But they're stuck in a film that values style over substance, and in both cases, there isn't much there to be found.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Imogen Poots, Susan Coyne, Valerie Mahaffey.
Directed by Azazel Jacobs ("The Lovers," "Momma's Man," "Terri").
"French Exit" is available on Friday, February 12th, 2021.
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