The rise of the Woody Allen-esque comedies in recent years has been an insufferable ride to sit through. Allen’s comedies were never really all that groundbreaking or witty, to begin with, where the idiosyncratic narratives and bickering motives always resulted in some sort of underwhelming finale. The biggest offender of this recent slew of mockups is American director Azazel Jacobs; with his filmography primarily poking homage to his biggest influencers including Allen. His previous feature The Lovers is particularly condescending in how the film concludes without any sort of catharsis or basic surface-level meaning. The exact same can be said about French Exit, a directionless black comedy with a derivative heart at its core.
For a film containing psychics, seances, black cats, and rich white people, one would expect some sort of wild joy ride. Though Jacobs plays his film safe, in which all elements of the absurd and the surreal are sacrificed for the mere temporary amusement of its hollow quirky characters. The motives, the actions, and even the standard three-act structure of the film are all shrouded in a cloud of eccentricity; where the film only barely hints at some sort of commentary on the manufactured lavish lifestyles and mental stability of the 1%. Even with its basic setup and clear narrative outline, Jacobs still manages to falter in his finale once again. Was his intention supposed to be some sort of subversion of expectations? I’m not sure, though his direction is awfully unclear.
French Exit is also dreadfully stale from a technical standpoint. The film imitates the likeness of a student production, where drab colours and minimalist production design are put in favour of some sort of form of visual symbolism. There could have been a variety of different techniques, whether in basic set architecture or hairstyling to visually communicate the pompous mindset of Pfeiffer’s Frances Price. The lack of ingenuity in the film’s costumes and set decoration is evident in every frame, matching the same amount of low effort found in the most deplorable of sitcoms.
With not much to work with, it’s a shame that the strong acting talent was wasted on a project so middling in execution. French Exit is further proof that regardless of a talented acting ensemble, the direction and focus of a film is the key to true success. French Exit had all the right ingredients in pre-production, but it seems as though the weightless script and direction brought the film down to a show-shattering halt. In a year already filled with sadness and rage, here is yet another building block to stack upon the already crumbling tower of 2020’s biggest disappointments.
Dir: Azazel Jacobs
Scr: Patrick Dewitt
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Danielle Macdonald, Imogen Poots, Tracy Letts
DOP: Tobias Datum
Run time: 110 minutes
French Exit screened at this year’s New York Film Festival as the official Closing Night film. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in the coming months.