Over the weekend, the Closing Night Selection of the 58th New York Film Festival officially revealed itself in French Exit. One of the only true sight unseen X factors of this very unusual awards season, the movie was looked at as potentially an Oscar player for Michelle Pfeiffer at the very least. Well, having seen it a few days prior, I held my tongue until the embargo lifted. French Exit is not a good flick, and while Pfeiffer is really going for it, her candidacy in Best Actress is probably going to be an uphill battle. More below on the closer to NYFF this year.
The film’s plot synopsis is, as follows: “An aging Manhattan socialite living on what’s barely left of her inheritance moves to a small apartment in Paris with her son and cat.” The festival provided a bit of a longer description: “Michelle Pfeiffer is entirely bewitching as Frances Price, an imperious, widowed New York socialite whose once-extreme wealth has dwindled down to a nub. Facing insolvency, she makes the decision to escape the city by cruise ship and relocate to her friend’s empty Paris apartment with her dyspeptic son, Malcolm (Lucas Hedges), and their mercurial cat, Small Frank (voiced by Tracy Letts). There, Frances and Malcolm reckon with their pasts and plan for an impossible future, all while their social circle expands in unexpected and increasingly absurdist ways. This adaptation of the best-selling novel by Patrick deWitt is a rare American film of genuine eccentricity, elegantly directed by Azazel Jacobs (The Lovers), and featuring a brilliant performance of stylish severity by Pfeiffer, whose every intonation is a wonder to behold. A Sony Pictures Classics release.” Azazel Jacobs directs a script by Patrick deWitt, as mentioned above, with cinematography by Tobias Datum. In addition to Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, and Michelle Pfeiffer, the cast includes Isaach De Bankolé, Danielle Macdonald, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots, and more.
Personally, I did not care for this flick, one bit. It’s meandering and often pointless, without a true sense of what it’s trying to do or where it wants to go. Frankly, the trio of Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, and Michelle Pfeiffer are mostly wasted, though the latter does her best to still stand out. Awards wise, it’s going to be Pfeiffer or bust, with Best Actress seemingly out of her reach for a win. Nomination wise, it wouldn’t be impossible, but it definitely feels like the kind of turn that won’t catch on with enough voters to make a difference.
French Exit is going to appeal to a very particular crowd. Whether that crowd includes Academy members remains to be seen, but I suspect more will dislike the movie than will fall for it. Perhaps I’m wrong and the film becomes an indie hit when it launches early next year (just in the nick of time for Oscar contention). We shall see. If nothing else, it closed out the 2020 New York Film Festival in unusually divisive fashion…
Stay tuned for more on French Exit!
(Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)