A tragedy of manners. So is the bestselling author Patrick DeWitts satirical novel “French exit”Was billed when it was released in 2018. This description is also exactly right for this elegant, droll and heartbreaking screen adaptation, which is staged by with skillful command and confident style Azazel Jacobs. The devilishly disarming “French Exit” was written by DeWitt himself with the authority of a word smith who has his own material hair out of place. It’s only when you’ve spent enough time in the company of his nicely dressed, odd group of characters – led by a sexagenarian New York widow who spends the last crumbs of her fortune in Paris – that you notice her bleeding bruises under this strangely addicting, clever little one Film perfect surface.
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This rich facade feels a lot like a Wes Anderson Film: Ornate, hardworking and deliberate in its details, but luckily without Anderson’s whimsical, candy-colored trinkets. And what’s behind it looks like something out of one Charlie Kaufman-esque text with its cavernous existential concerns and absurdist humor that contains a ghost, Tracy Letts– t6 speaking cat agreed (yes, indeed!), but focused on the self-deprecating privileged in contrast to the middle class. These traits are evident in the film’s brief flashback when we first meet the astute celebrity Frances Price (a mesmerizingly saucy woman) Michelle Pfeiffer), who prances through the corridors of a majestic private school in her satin dress, clicking heels, fur-trimmed coat and heavy make-up and tears her young son Malcolm out of his studies to bring him the news of his, oh so casually Father Frank’s death.
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Over time, this particular death has provided plenty of gossip fodder for the Park Avenue elite. not because of Frank’s sudden heart attack, but because after discovering it, Frances left her husband’s body unattended for days, which led to the confusion of the paramedics and the shovel-hungry paparazzi. While her reaction is hard to defend, it will make sense in the context of “French Exit” and this particular character whose every step is registered as another dispassionate one. So what?
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Years later Frances and adult son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges, with a depressive edge that the actor both possesses and shakes off brilliantly) can be seen at the breakfast table in her lovely apartment. The tête-à-tête between mother and son feels like something out of an amateur school play, in which every sentence that escapes your mouth ends up like a phrase you have learned by heart and rehearsed. This screeching superficial quality of their line delivery shouldn’t be viewed as a flaw in the film, however. As two dissatisfied, abandoned people, this is their usual way. They have learned to bury their feelings so deep that they have forgotten feelings and are okay. Even when Frances inquired about her son’s difficult relationship with his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots) she can’t help but dive into sarcasm. “Oh to be young …ish and in love-ish“She longs so unmotherly, so without a trace of sincere longing.
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Frances’ replacement lasts until the afternoon when the family accountant announces that her cash reserve has been used up. Annoyed that she didn’t die before the money ran out as she hoped for decades ago, the bankrupt mother liquidates all of her remaining valuables and flees to her friend Joan (Susan Coyne) Parisian apartment with Malcolm saying goodbye to his girlfriend on a slapdash. An extravagant cruise later, they have nothing to do in Paris but blow wads of money at what Frances considers her third act in life.
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Step inside the clairvoyant, death-sniffing Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald, aptly witchy), the terminally lonely ex-Pat-widow Mme. Reynard (a sweet but dangerously controlled one Valerie Mahaffey), the esoteric private detective Julius (Isaach De Bankolé), along with Joan, Susan and their new friend Tom (Daniel di Tomasso). No matter how these unlikely clans of eccentric loners eventually band together in the beautiful Parisian pied-à-terre and spontaneously conjure up the spirit of the departed price. But instead keep an eye on her thoughts on life and death, love and sacrifice, originality and smallness over nights of bottomless martinis. And succumb to the lavish disharmony of this clan – it’s like they’re the ensemble of a 21stst Century “You can’t take it with you”, but with quiet sharpness and individuality and not with generosity and consistency as the main currency.
“French Exit” is filmed gracefully through a lens that sees pain and loneliness in every picture and in every negative space, even in moments of laughter, prescriptively melancholy for an otherwise non-didactic film with its piano-heavy score. But those little gaffes don’t detract from the ultimately perfect marriage of a writer and director as two accomplished genre benders. As he did with his book in the western genre “The sisters brothers“DeWitt gives this domestic drama a plausible dose of idiosyncratic joke that doesn’t feel over the top. Now, as he did with his unusually adult romantic comedy”The lovers“Jacobs ripe conjures up a world of bitter and perhaps even unlikely characters and desperately falls for them.”
With her dagger-like looks, her suggestive lips and her flaming cinnamon hair, which can keep up with the color of the Parisian autumn leaves, a large part of the triumph belongs to none other than Pfeiffer here, who continuously sets the “French Exit” on fire. In certain scenes, their coldness suggests almost murderous Patrick Bateman-esque indifference. In other cases it only allows the viewer to peek into Frances’ weak points for a moment. She expertly chews into all of them and spits out her lines with musical precision as if Frances were out there to avenge a life she had no more fucks to give. Like “French Exit” itself, Pfeiffer is a vision: at first cool and distant, but profound, then even painfully associated with someone who is concerned with a future of the unknown and often asks: “What now?” [B+]
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