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French Exit


Stars: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Valerie Mahaffey, Susan Coyne, Danielle Macdonald, Isaach de Bankole. Imogen Poots. Voice: Tracy Letts

Director: Azazel Jacobs

An eccentric film about an eccentric widow, Frances (played by Pfeiffer with a scarlet gash of lipstick), once a famous socialite who, with the death of her (hated) husband a few years earlier, finds funds running low. Her lawyer (a nice little cameo by Robert Higden) advises her to sell everything, pay her debts and start a new life with the money.

Fortuitously, the widow has a friend, Joan (Coyne) who has an apartment in Paris she rarely uses, and so Frances leaves New York behind and sails for France with her now grown son Malcolm (Hedges) and cat in tow. It transpires a bit later that Frances believes that the cat is inhabited by the spirit of her dead husband.

Once there, it seems Frances has little grasp of money: she leaves a 100 euro tip for a coffee, pays a detective (de Bankole) hundreds more to search for a missing girl, and gives away what looks like thousands to a vagrant.

It seems she has some kind of death wish, or portent of impending doom, perhaps foretold by the fortune-teller (Macdonald) who has been bedded with amazing speed by Malcolm on board ship, and now turns up on their doorstep.

There's birdlike chatterbox neighbour Madame Renard (Mahaffey), Malcolm's ex-girlfriend back home (Poots) and her new beau (Daniele di Tomasso). Somehow all these characters and Joan too (but not the cat, who has hi-tailed it to the park) end up in the same apartment, living together in a sort of commune.

The plot, such as it is, unfolds at a slow pace as a series of vignettes. The faintly unreal dialogue has some amusing moments at first, but the novelty soon wears off, not helped by some excessively long takes. Director Jacobs has aimed somewhere between work by directors Woody Allen and Wes Anderson for the feel of this one, but misses the mark by the width of the Seine.

David Quinlan

Canada/Ireland 2021. UK Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics (Stage 6). Technicolor.
113 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 28 Jun 2021