Michelle Pfeiffer’s icy, incandescent performance garnered her a Golden Globe nomination, even though Azazel Jacobs’ film leaves much to be desired.
Pfeiffer plays elegant, entitled Frances Price, a once-wealthy Manhattan widow who has fecklessly blown through her late husband Frank’s fortune. “My plan was to die before the money ran out,” she explains. “But I kept and keep on not dying.”
Facing embarrassing insolvency, Frances takes off with a satchel of euros on a transatlantic voyage, headed for Paris with her black cat, dubbed Small Frank (voiced by Tracy Letts), and listless twentysomething son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges).
In a flashback scene, Frances shows up at Malcolm’s boarding school when he’s about 12 to spirit him away. “What about my clothes?” he wails. “I’ll buy you new clothes,” she retorts.
Now, Malcolm is struggling with telling his mother that he has proposed to his girlfriend Susan (Imogen Poots), who doesn’t understand why he’s so devoted to someone who never made time for him when he was younger.
Moving into a flat that belongs to her friend Joan (Susan Coyne), imperious Frances is soon befriended by another widow, lonely Mme. Reynaud (Valerie Mahaffey); Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald), a fortune-teller/psychic; and a genial private detective, Julius (Isaach De Bankole).
Even when Susan unexpectedly appears with a new beau (Daniel di Tomasso), the eccentric ensemble is not particularly endearing or engaging.
Perhaps the most memorable vignette finds Frances and Malcolm at a French restaurant. When the disdainfully arrogant waiter ignores Malcolm’s polite request for the check, Frances takes a vial of perfume from her purse, spritzes the table’s small bouquet and calmly ignites it with her cigarette lighter.
Adapted by Patrick deWitt (“The Sisters Brothers”) from his 2018 novel – “a tragedy of manners,” director Azazel Jacobs (“Momma’s Man,” “The Lovers”) has created absurdist, underwritten, yet exasperating characters who are less than likeable, although Michelle Pfeiffer obviously relishes Frances’ droll dialogue and withering glances.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “French Exit” is a forgettable 5, except for the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer.