To live out the primitive years as a socialite with a dwindling surplus of cash and no way of making more is a dangerous precipice that specifically exists within a few films. French Exit is one of them. Planning to die before the money runs out is a fantastic line of reason for Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer) to follow through with, but as luck would have it, her egalitarian character is stuck running the gauntlet and running out of money rapidly. Dragging along Malcolm Price (Lucas Hedges) in that creates the natural and obvious back and forth Azazel Jacobs hopes to collate. A mother and son drawn together not by love but by a necessity, an overbearing desire to keep each other going for their own reasons.
It is hard to feel sympathy for Frances Price, and that trickles down into Malcolm Price too. A strong performance from Hedges marks this character as a flawed one, ruined by the greed and social standing of his mother who made all the choices for him. He has been bubble wrapped and kept away from the real world, but it is still hard to feel sympathy for him even if that wasn’t his choice to make. These characters speak in complete cliché. Imogen Poots and Hedges’ first interaction is one thickly layered with the lover’s tiff and subsequent fear of the matriarch on top of it all. The overbearing nature of Frances is commandeered well by Pfeiffer but the writing leaves much of it up in the air.
Difficult it can be to feel sympathy for characters whose egalitarianism is their own undoing, Jacobs’ direction does little to prevent an audience from being actively against them. The pair at the core of French Exit are overblown. Staged renditions of people who had it all and now do not. There are hints at their almost regal lifestyle, from the sunglasses indoors stereotype to nurse the hangover to the green lamp sitting on the desk of an office no longer used. It hurts to see how dull these interpretations are, but it is shocking to see how little growth there is. The key to unlocking the worth of a character is having them be, at the very least, interesting to see and hear from. But French Exit has neither.
A strange piece that relies on bizarre plotlines that come almost from nowhere, out of the blue and into the fray of the socialite on the public decline. What French Exit does perfect however is the snivelling, conniving lack of real friends that surround the lives of those in the upper echelons of society. Upon revealing her financial woes, the silence that follows from a friend presumably trusted is telling. Unfortunately, it is just a brief moment before they start munching on celery sticks and a plan comes together like some high-society version of Hannibal from The A-Team. A plan may be forming for the characters spiralling into financial regression, but French Exit fumbles its tale of those more fortunate than most coming to terms with their coasting sap on society.