French Exit is based on the book of the same name by author Patrick DeWitt. It centers on Michael Pfeifer’s character, Frances Price. She is kind of an aging Manhattan socialite, and she is living on what’s left of her inheritance.
She is then forced to move to a smaller apartment in the city of Paris with her son Malcolm, who is portrayed by Lucas Hedges. And they also have a cat black cat, which at first, I thought, was a nod to her portrayal of Catwoman. But boy, oh boy, is there more to that cat.
It premiered at New York Film Festival back in October 2020, and ever since then, I was hearing a lot of talk surrounding Michelle Pfeiffer for a possible awards push, with a qualifying run in February before expanding in April. Though that push only amounted to a few nominations, unfortunately.
But I will say Michelle Pfeiffer is easy, hands down, the best thing about this movie. Michelle Pfeiffer shines in this dark comedy directed by Azazel Jacobs, which ended up being a bit more eccentric than I expected it to be.
French Exit Explained
Francis is living a wealthy life that I’m clearly not privy to yet. I mean, when her accountant tells her that she must sell almost all of her prized possessions just so she can survive. Both she and her accountant say they hoped she died before her body ran out.
While there’s a bit of humor, there’s also some truth. Frances has never worked a day, and she doesn’t intend to do so now. Her son Malcolm is an adult but relies solely on his mother. He doesn’t question finances because it doesn’t concern him, and he’s never had to be concerned with him before.
Frances and Malcolm have a unique relationship. They’ve been inseparable since he was about 12 years old after his mother unexpectedly pulled him from boarding school following his father’s untimely death and Frances’s bout in jail.
It’s clear in the film that they not only rely heavily on each other for physical and emotional needs but that they have an unhealthy codependence. So much so that when Malcolm is supposed to go to Frances and tell her about his engagement with Susan, instead Francis ends up hijacking that conversation and also his life by saying that they’re abruptly moving to Paris.
Now, while Paris is the spot and, like, honestly, things could be worse. You know, instead of saying no to his mother because he doesn’t want to leave his fiance and New York, Malcolm just goes to Paris without one mention of his engagement.
Now, clearly, Frances has some good friends, the type of friends that I need right now. Because her bestie Joan just offered up her Parisian apartment for free like it was nothing. And again, since Paris is my favorite city, I kinda can’t blame Malcom and Frances for just picking up and leaving in a heartbeat.
Along the way, Frances, Malcolm, and that black cat kind of meet some wild individuals and have some crazy journeys: from traveling to Paris by ship, a one-night stand with Madeline the medium comes back into play a little bit later, meeting Mme Reynard, who is justice over the top as Frances, plus the reemergence of Bestie Joan and fiance Susan and in some unexpected ways.
French Exit Ending Explained
Frances is pretty much just eager to end her life, though. I mean, she made a deal with herself that after all of the money is gone, that’s it for her. I will say nothing is what it seems, especially with that black cat.
So while it’s evidence that Frances is struggling throughout the film, it feels like her way of dealing with it involves hiding it from Malcolm. And it’s not until the very last moments of the film that we see kind of another layer of transparency between the two of them.
Franklin and Frances were always elite couples. They were in love, but they quickly became lost. Frances had hoped that having a child would reunite them and reignite their romance, but when Malcolm was born, Franklin grew more distant.
Frances never expressed to anyone how she felt about her late partner. Malcolm, however, did. Franklin informed Malcolm through spirit communication that his mother intended to kill him and advised him to find out why. Malcolm declined to take a deeper dive and expressed neither approval nor disapproval of his mother’s plan.
At this specific moment, it was clear that Frances and Malcolm felt the same way about Franklin. When Malcolm was a child and worshiped him, he never once showed him even the tiniest preference or affection. Malcolm wanted his dad to embrace him, but he was treated like a repulsive creature. Malcolm attended a boarding school during his early years. Frances shared his feelings of utter hatred towards him.
With time, the pair became more distant from one another. Franklin becomes distant, cold, and cruel. Frances just let him die after he suffered a stroke. When she returned, she discovered the cat on his body, and she understood that his spirit was resettled inside of it. Frances served time in prison for ignoring her husband’s stroke.
Frances’s act of remorse for what she had done to her husband was to pet the cat. This explains why the animal has such a significant role in the story. It served as a way to fill in the gaps, and part of it was eventually repaired.
Michelle Pfeiffer does a fantastic job with her portrayal of Frances. She radiates a strength all her own in the world of men. Malcolm’s viewpoint provides our view of Frances. Although he had always revered his father, he later came to see that his mom was the true hero. Malcolm was excessively dedicated to her because she was facing the world by herself.
Malcom understands that he is the only thing she has. Thus he doesn’t want to abandon her alone. In the end, Frances chose to leave herself because she was certain that Malcolm just wouldn’t abandon her. The mother and son’s unbreakable bond is adorably depicted in the movie.
French Exit Review
French Exit, which is based on a book packed with words, has so many memorable scenes that may express hundreds of different emotions with just one look. The subtext takes center stage and does so in a positive way. Despite such a deep story, the movie is surprisingly funny.
It makes you laugh with clever comedy and skillfully planned scenarios. Even after the movie is over, you’ll remember some sequences, such as the one with the dildo in the refrigerator, Mme. Reynard’s persona and Frances’s humor.
I really wanted more transparency throughout the film, and admittedly by the end, I was still in tears. But I still really wanted more, especially from Malcolm, who I felt just deserved more time and more moments with his mom. I self almost grateful, though, that they fled to Paris because it did broaden and deepen their relationship in a bit more ways than I wanted to see on screen.
Something that I didn’t get a chance to see that I was hoping to see with Malcolm just really standing on his own two feet and kind of what it looks like for him to do that, apart from his relationship with his mother.
Overall, this movie was funny, unusual, and even endearing in some ways. Michelle’s performance was a standout. The chemistry between her and Lucas was so peculiar in all of the right ways and kind of exactly what it needed to be for their nontraditional relationship.
French Exit surprised me in every way, and although I was never really sure where the film was headed, one thing is for sure, the layers, the performances, and the humor kept me intrigued along the way.
I would definitely recommend this film, especially if you have an affinity for movies that centers on dark and messy drama amongst the elites. You shouldn’t miss this movie. French Exit sends you on a subtly emotional trip that is both humorous and sad. Mother and son are feeling a variety of emotions together. Such stories are uncommon, and this movie excels because of them.
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