My old workmates used to say that I am the Queen of French Exits. Whenever there was an after-work event – a party, a bar meet up – I would always make a grand entrance, make sure my presence is felt, and then slyly make an unannounced exit. I think I do that mostly when I don’t really want to attend something – it’s my way of ‘being there’ even if i really do not want to.
That’s just one reason why I was looking forward to seeing Azazel Jacobs’ ‘French Exit.’ Mainly, I wanted to see it because everyone has been talking about Michele Pfeiffer’s performance here. She plays Frances Price, a widow who learns from her financial advisor that her money has run out. She has spending it frivolously, and she realized she has no plan. So she sells everything and with her son, played by Lucas Hedges, takes a transatlantic cruise to Paris. She takes her cat with them, Little Frank, which embodies the spirit of her late husband.
This is one of those films that one would probably describes as ‘quirky.’ It is nowhere near a drama. It has elements of comedy, and farce, but the film never goes fully in any of those genres. It’s somewhat like a Wes Anderson film in tweeness, with elements of talky Noah Baumbach perhaps. Pfeiffer is indeed glorious, one of those caricature-ish New York City Upper East Side dames. Pfeiffer is smart enough not to play it like a cartoon, though, injecting a whole lot of humanity in her performance. Hedges is a good match for her, playing his character with a huge stroke of understatement.
I liked the film enough. I think I understood what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. What was lacking for me was connection to any of the characters. I knew what the characters were doing, but I couldn’t understand why.
When Shia LeBouf was in rehab, his therapist asked him to write down some of his memories, as they thought he was suffering from PTSD. Those writings, fleshed out, became the screenplay for ‘Honey Boy.’ Sadly, it feels like it. I know a lot of people like this film immensely, but I am not on that camp. For the most part, I thought the film was self-indulgent and one note. I empathize with what the character went through (here the LaBeouf character is named Otis) and the performances are across-the-board outstanding, but I didn’t connect with the film at all.
Maybe it’s misery fatigue? i didn’t find anything new in this story, or even in how Director Alma Har’el tells it. It isn’t broad enough to be interesting for me, and perhaps it should have had a little more back story for context? Noah Jupe, who plays Otis is great, mixing innocence and kid-smart. LaBeouf, playing his father, is raw and edgy, and I could imagine playing this character must have been very cathartic for him. And Lucas Hedges, playing young adult Otis is great, and I think he has never looked more attractive on screen. The film is not necessarily a total waste of time, but I question if it needs to exist.
Someone described Trey Edwards Shults’ ‘Waves’ as a modern version of ‘Ordinary People’ so I know at some point there will be some kind of tragedy that will be affecting the Southern Florida family here. (Some people have also described it as similar to the television show ‘This Is Us’ so I also wondered if, just like that television show, the film would fetishize grief) The films tarts out light, but gets very intense right away. I am sometimes averse to suspense, so I spent a lot of time ‘waiting’ for the tragedy to happen, and I sense that it would affect the character of Tyler, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. Tyler is a star athlete, and prized student, and you just know there something darker looming there somewhere. When tragedy finally strikes – and it happens with great masterful storytelling – and his and his family’s world unravels, I breathed a sigh of relief. I told myself I can finally relax and ride the wave of how the movie will unfold. It is then that the second half of the film starts, and there’s a jarring change of pace and texture. While the first part is sharp and frenetic, the latter half is softer, more contemplative, tender and sensitive. The movie shifts to Emily (Taylor Russell) who together with her parents (Sterling K Brown and Renee Elise Goldberry) are left to pick up the broken pieces of their lives.
This is a movie that slowly creeps up on you. It tells stories of different kids of love – familial and romantic. It shows us how we are pushed to limits, and how those limits can also heal us. Most times, we get healing of what broke us to begin with and Shults weaves storytelling and great imagery here to put together a film that touches you. He dies a trick where the camera spins a 360 degree turn – and at first I couldn’t get why he did it, but realize that for me, it was to show that we have to look around us in every situation to understand all the aspects that make our lives what it is,
P. S. There’s a great star turn here again by Lucas Hedges. I am always amazed how he shows up and always ends up as the most valuable player in the film. He brought a lot of lightness in this film that could have turned down-y. I look forward to a movie whenever I see his name in the cast.
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Julie Roberts performance, though I do remember the last time I enjoyed a Julia Roberts film (that would be ‘Wonder’ from last year) But I thin she is fantastic in Peter Hedges’ Ben Is Back,’ wherein you can see Roberts go deep and try to get in a character, instead of just trying to go by and wing the performance through her trademark guffaw. In here, she plays Holly, a mother who has to deal with her son coming home from rehab to spend Christmas at home, and Roberts is great at that opening scene wherein she sees her son and her face has to show a multitude of emotions – glee with his arrival, but at the same time there’s concern and fear with what might happen. Roberts owns the film from that moment, as we experience what she goes through for twenty four hours.
There has been a couple of movies this season about white boys in peril, and this one is the one that resonated best so far from me. The film switches gears mid-way through, and that made it more interesting for me. I was on the edge of my seat as it veered towards being an almost-thriller. And I have to say that I have seen Lucas Hedges give one memorable performance after another recently and he is at his best here, and I believed him the most in this film. He and Roberts played off each other well, and their performance add heart and soul to the film. At my screening, there were people hired by the studio giving about questionnaires about the film and I thought they were very aggressive, which makes me think they don’t really know how to market this. I hope this film finds an audience. It deserves one.