Review by Camden Ferrell
French Exit is the newest comedy from writer/director Azazel Jacobs, and it had its premiere at the 2020 New York Film Festival. It is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt. While it certainly has its own unique quirks, this is a movie that can often be too absurd for its own good.
Frances is a socialite who faces insolvency after squandering away her inheritance. She decides to take the remainder of her money and move to Paris with her son and bizarre cat. In Paris, they mull over their past while also meeting new and exciting people in their new environment. This is a simple premise with one unique twist that could have been incredibly compelling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fully realize its potential.
Jacobs’ script is idiosyncratic if nothing else. It features some fairly witty dialogue that can often be overshadowed by peculiar and out of place exchanges. More than anything, the script doesn’t really flow naturally enough to achieve the surreal tone of the film, and it hinders the movies ability to transcend into profound and eccentric territory.
The one main highlight of the film is the undeniably passionate leading performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. She is a powerhouse of an actress who does a fair amount with her role despite how limiting it initially seems. Her delivery is convincing, and her timing and chemistry is great. Unfortunately, she isn’t always provided the resources by this movie to truly be amazing. The film co-stars Lucas Hedges as her son. While he is fairly decent alongside Pfeiffer, his performance doesn’t really amount to anything memorable.
The movie is nearly two hours long, and it never really feels like it earns that run time. The pacing can be so sluggish at times, and it truly feels that this movie could have been better if it had been under ninety minutes. There is a consistent inconsistency in how the scenes transition and flow. The odd pacing is one of the main things hindering the film’s enjoyability.
While Jacobs is known for his offbeat and eccentric humor, this is a movie that has a hard time locating any of that same charm. It feels like an overt attempt to be witty and zany, but it comes off as superficial and fairly uninteresting throughout. Not to say it’s a bad film, but a lot of the humor and quirks do not land like they were intended to.
This is a movie that well-made in its cinematography, blocking, and production design. Unfortunately, the stylistic choices of the film are undermined by its lack of substance. Its themes are muddled in the messiness of its script, and it’s a film that is more forgettable than objectionably bad.
French Exit may appeal to those who heavily identify with Jacobs’ brand of comedy, but it won’t do much for the average viewer. It features a great leading performance while everything else falls pretty flat.
French Exit is in theaters February 12.