Have you ever wanted to drop everything and just start over fresh?
The following review contains mild plot spoilers for French Exit. But if you’re worried, you can skip down to the spoiler-free Bottom Line below.
French Exit Review
Not the moral you’re expecting
When you hear the premise of French Exit, you think you’re getting a certain kind of story. One where a wealthy socialite, forced by circumstance to live a more frugal existence, learns the true value of life. All that you don’t need money to be truly happy! moralistic nonsense.
It’s a lot of stories, but it’s not French Exit.
It’s true Frances Price (Pfeiffer) makes a “French exit” from her New York socialite life. She sells off her belongings and moves into a friend’s spare apartment in Paris. When she goes, the charmingly unusual Frances takes her equally unusual (but slightly less charming) son Malcolm (Hedges) with her.
When she piles up three neat stacks of euros in her new bedroom closet, we know this is all she has left in the world: this money, her adult son, the cat they smuggled over the border, and a borrowed apartment.
Frances then proceeds to quickly blow through all the money she has to her name.
But again, this isn’t the story you expect. Frances doesn’t blow her cash on maintaining the extravagant lifestyle of her past. She doesn’t go shopping for designer clothes or head to a spa where they charge you €1000 per eye for sliced cucumbers. She just starts…overpaying for normal things. Giving it away. Leaving €100 tips at the cafe.
And while the practical-minded may fault her fiscal irresponsibility, it’s hard to truly dislike someone approaching life with such chaotic generosity.
Grounded through humor and character work
Frances and Malcolm are a bit strange, and the humor of French Exit takes its cues from the leads. It swings from dry and offbeat to absurd and almost farcical at times. There’s a truly bizarre, unpredictable, and deeply important significance placed on the cat. An unexpected foray into the paranormal. Three people trying to sleep on a sofa bed at once. And when a waiter is rude to Frances, she sets the flowers on the table on fire.
But despite everything with the cat, the witch, and the séance (seriously), French Exit stays grounded through its characters.
While Frances and Malcolm are both odd, it’s a shared oddness. As outsiders their actions can be unpredictable to us, but never to each other. In every scene, their bond is undeniable. Once when Frances is being rude, Malcolm tells her “You’re being a dick.” And in response she changes her behavior! (Don’t you wish all disagreements with your parents were that simple?)
It’s probably hard for a lot of people to imagine what they’d have in common with a wealthy socialite. But the story and Pfeiffer’s excellent performance work in tandem to assure viewers connect to Frances on an emotional level. Though the ending is played as somewhat ambiguous, one thing is clear: Frances is done with this life, and ready for her next.
And haven’t we all thought about starting over at some point?
French Exit: The Bottom Line
French Exit moves beyond the expectations of its premise to create something new. The offbeat sense of humor may polarize viewers – it’s a very love-it-or-hate-it vibe. But Pfeiffer’s performance is undeniably fantastic, bringing a nuance and realness to Frances that makes her feel like she could be any one of us, given the right set of circumstances.
French Exit premieres February 12.