- Emma Simmonds
- 28 June 2021
Patrick deWitt's novel becomes a quirky comedy starring Lucas Hedges and an excellent Michelle Pfeiffer
Michelle Pfeiffer is sensational in this sometimes-sparkling comedy about a high society lady who has fallen on hard times. Based on the acclaimed 2018 novel from Canadian author Patrick deWitt (best known for the Booker-nominated The Sisters Brothers, which was also made into a film), it's an adaptation that's been turned around pretty sharpish; the film was in the works by 2019 and it closed the New York Film Festival last year. Boasting a screenplay from deWitt himself, it teams the writer once again with director Azazel Jabobs – the pair having collaborated previously on Jacobs' 2011 film Terri.
Pfeiffer makes a wonderful role entirely her own, inhabiting the effortlessly superior Frances Price – a Manhattan socialite who no longer has the snap and spark of youth, yet boasts a certain chiselled luminosity regardless. 'My life has fallen completely to pieces and I'm sad about it,' she confesses as she's forced to quietly sell her remaining possessions in order to scrape together some spending money. She does, at least, have her loyal and rather awkward adult son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) by her side and, when they are ousted from their home, the pair end up heading to Paris with their cat Small Frank to the borrowed apartment of a friend.
The film is a screwball-esque comedy, with oddball characters – including Danielle Macdonald's Madeleine the Medium and Valerie Mahaffey's Mme Reynard – eliciting deadpan reactions from the leads. It's perfectly charming, while the combination of elegance and eccentricity makes it more than a little Wes Anderson-esque. French Exit doesn't quite have the attention to detail of Anderson's films, and although not all the comedy comes off there are, at least, some very funny scenes. Hedges fails to make his usual impression in a less defined and interesting role than was originally written, but Malcolm is a decent enough foil for his marvellous mother.
Perhaps the mysterious feline she carries with her has somehow rubbed off, or she's back channelling Catwoman, but Pfeiffer brings a slight purr to her performance. Alternately queenly, benevolent, ice-cold, cheeringly rebellious and desperately, desperately sad, Frances is a fascinating, multi-faceted part; what a gift for an actress, and it's a gift for us that one so great gets to play her.
Available to watch in cinemas from Fri 2 Jul.