REVIEW: ‘French Exit’ is a dramedy failure

Academy Award nominees Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges are featured prominently in “French Exit,” yet their presence isn’t enough to rescue this misfire.

In “French Exit,” Pfeiffer plays Frances, a widow  and New York socialite who has spent most of the money left behind after the death of her husband. Hedges, meanwhile, plays Malcolm, Frances’ son who is intending to marry his girlfriend, Susan (Imogen Poots).

With her resources dwindling, Frances decides to move to an apartment in France with her son and navigate what she should do next with her life. While the plan throws a wrench in Malcolm’s wedding dreams, he decides to go along with his mother’s move. Upon reaching France, the duo begin meeting several new characters who become involved in their lives.

“French Exit” isn’t just a difficult movie to sit through, it’s one that gets actively worse as it goes along. At the outset it seems like this is going to be a mother and son who have a cynical view of the world going on sort of a last hurrah with their remaining cash.

Before one can get accustomed to this direction of the film, though, the picture suddenly shifts into an ensemble movie, and then takes a quick turn into the supernatural with a bizarre seance scene. If this movie was a car, the transmission would be absolutely wrecked because of how often it shifts gears.

It’s understandable that director Azazel Jacobs and writer Patrick DeWitt wanted to make a sort of oddball, quirky comedy. However, it just feels like they’re constantly throwing as much weird plot developments at the wall in the hope that something sticks.

Dark and/or quirky dramatic comedies can be very good. Both Wes Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos have thoroughly proven as much.

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Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Those movies, though, often have superb, sharp writing and fascinating, engaging characters to follow. “French Exit” doesn’t have much of either.

The dialogue featured is often strangely delivered with low levels of passion or emotion, as if the film is trying too hard to make the characters as quirky as possible.

If the characters are going to act this way, though, there has to be a point, or it has to be funny, or offer some sort of entertainment. That’s just not here. It’s all meaningless and goes nowhere. As a result, one ends up not really caring about anybody.

This is especially true in the second half of the film where the cast is expanded to an ensemble level with a bunch of random characters with not an ounce of real depth. That extends to the relationships, too.

Whether its Malcolm and Susan, or a friend of Frances and a private detective introduced halfway through the flick, there’s no real chemistry or sparks to become invested in these relationships.

This is why the film becomes tougher to get through the more it goes on. It keeps adding more characters that are simply insufferable.

The movie does earn a few points for having performers such as Pfeiffer and Hedges who do elevate the material just a bit. Plus, there’s one laugh out loud moment where Hedges’ character is confronted about some of his actions that’s really satisfying to see.

“French Exit” is a poor dramedy entry. Its drama elements are cut down by the fact that one doesn’t really care about the characters and the humor is a repetitive, exhaustive mix of weird moments that go nowhere. 1.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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