Frances Price is a New York native and heiress who has run out of money.
For years, she’s been living off of her late husband’s inheritance, hoping to stretch the last penny until her longed-for death. But when the cash stops flowing and she’s still alive, life takes an unexpected turn.
Frances sells nearly all her possessions and heads to Paris with her adult son, Malcom. There, Frances and Malcom live—rent free—in a friend’s apartment. And as time passes, they meet a group of unlikely people who are in need community and affection just like themselves.
Now, their lives are fuller than they’ve ever been. But try as she will, Frances can’t seem to fill her perpetually growing void—and she’s ready to do something about it.
Frances, although an odd woman, is filled with a fierce desire to protect those she truly loves. She also speaks up for the less fortunate and apologizes for being rude to those whom she’s misjudged. She’s also generous with her money, even though her motives are sometimes questionable.
Frances encourages Malcom to forgive his father, telling Malcom that while his dad was emotionally stunted, the man was not evil. She also asks Malcom for forgiveness for not being present in his life until he was in middle school and affirms him by telling him how loved he is.
Frances and Malcom find friendship in unlikely places, with unlikely people.
Malcom meets a strange young woman named Madeleine who poses as a fortune teller on a cruise ship. She tells multiple elderly guests that they will die while on board, sending a few into hysterics. (And they do indeed die.) However, it turns out that Madeleine is in fact a medium.
Malcom and Frances ask Madeleine (whom they call a “little witch”) to summon back their black cat, who embodies the spirit of Malcom’s father, Frank. Frances says she believes her dead husband lives inside of the cat. Madeleine performs two séances to summon Frank’s spirit, and each person present takes turns talking to him.
A woman says she believes “friendship is a greater force for good than religion ever was.”
Malcom and Madeleine make out as Malcom takes off his jacket and pants. The camera pans away and the next day Malcom is seen in bed without a shirt, looking for Madeleine (and it’s clear the two had sex). Later, Malcom’s ex-fiancée comes to visit him and learns about this sexual engagement. A couple cuddles.
Frances jokingly asks her son if he’s menstruating. Madeleine asks Malcom if he is his mom’s gigolo. Malcom tries to tell his ex-fiancée that her dating another man is considered polygamy.
Malcom and Frances find a frozen sex toy in a freezer and discuss its use. Frances journals that she saw a man urinating in the park and then continues to discuss the size of his anatomy.
Frances, while she may have started out as optimistic, no longer has the will to live and talks repeatedly about dying. While sitting at a café one day, she writes a letter to a friend telling her that once she runs out of money, she will commit suicide. Although we never see anyone commit suicide, it’s still discussed and later insinuated.
Frances tells someone that she’s thought about locking herself and her son inside their home and setting it ablaze. In a flashback, Frances finds her deceased husband lying in their bed, covered by a sheet. She panics and flees, only to come back a few days later to find the body swollen (we hear). Frances admits to having wanted to kill her husband with her bare hands.
Madeleine predicts the death of many elderly guests aboard a cruise ship. After her predictions, many become ill and die. Malcom is taken to the morgue where corpses are covered by sheets.
A homeless man is tackled. Later, this man talks to Frances with a bruised and bloodied face. A jealous boyfriend punches Malcom in the face. Frances slaps a man in the face.
God’s name is misused three times, once paired with “d–n”; Christ’s name is misused twice. The f-word is used 11 times while “s–tty” is heard once, as is “d–k.”
Many people consume hard liquor and wine and are occasionally drunk. Frances smokes many cigarettes.
Malcom was raised by his emotionally disconnected father for most of his life, until his mother came to raise him at the age of 12. And while he was thankful for his mother, he still carries around a lot of hurt and trauma. He tells his father, during a séance, that all he ever wanted was to be loved and seen. His father ignores him, and Malcom shatters a glass in anger.
Frances tells a close friend that she has been lonely and felt a void inside for years. She says that nothing, including her son, has been able to rid her of her deep depression and indifference.
A waiter is rude to Frances and Malcom so Frances sets table flowers ablaze to procure faster customer service. Malcom tells a friend that his mother is “upset in the general sense.” A woman tells a story about how several people paid to watch an attractive woman urinate on a bush.
Frances’ cat scratches the woman’s wrist very badly after she tells it some bad news.
Based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt, French Exit is a film that wants to be a lot of things but falls short in many ways.
It’s the story of a troubled mother who wishes to die, a son who has longed his entire life for affection and purpose, and a group of quirky friends who are all looking for human connection. Mix in some harsh language, weird sexual content and a few séances that take this into an extremely troubling spiritual realm, and you’ve got the entire plot.
There’s also a message here that seems to say suicide is perfectly natural. If one wants to die, one should be left to wander the streets of Paris until that happens.
For a film that’s up for many awards, there’s nothing here except the superb acting of Michelle Pfeiffer that deserves merit.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).