Friday, April 2, 2021

A FEW AMERICANS IN PARIS

Opening today in theaters:

French Exit--Frances, an elegant, widowed Manhattanite played by Michelle Pfeiffer, finds herself broke at around 60. She’s been warned for years about the impending collapse, but she blithely assumed she’d expire before her finances did.

A kind friend offers her the use of an apartment in Paris, so Frances liquidates her art, books and other valuables. She, her twentysomething son (Lucas Hedges), and her rather marvelous black cat Small Frank make the crossing to the City of Light. Her plan is to exhaust what’s left of her money, then end her life.

Adapted by Patrick deWitt from his own novel and directed by Azazel Jacobs, this wistful comedy of the unconscionably upper class is carried by Pfeiffer’s brittle, enchanting performance, and by the dialogue, as polished and carefully curated as the d├ęcor in the socialite homes we see. Pfeiffer gives her lines an edge of polite impatience behind the dizziness, as if Frances can’t believe that she’s expected to deal with these irksome details of reality. But she’s too essentially good-natured to make a fuss about it.

In 2017 Jacobs wrote and directed The Lovers, a terrific marital comedy that I thought was one of the more original films of its kind in years; I put on my list of the best of the ‘teens. His directorial touch here is light and smooth as well. He gets delightful performances not just from Pfeiffer but from Hedges as the helplessly enthralled son, Valerie Mahaffey as an eccentric Paris widow who insinuates herself into the drama, and Danielle Macdonald as a sullen psychic. Jacobs even brings off a mild supernatural element, connected to Small Frank the cat, with amusing urbanity.

But there was something about the skewed fatalism by which Frances lives, and that I seemed expected to admire, that I couldn’t help but find off-putting from my view in the cheap seats. French Exit is a comedy, and at times it’s laugh out loud funny. But there’s also an aching sadness to it, and a sense of wounded entitlement that’s almost infuriating.

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