There has always been a bit of the vulpine to Michelle Pfeiffer; there are traces of it in the impossible angles of her cheekbones and the potential for sharpness in her smile. But in French Exit, her character, Frances Price, might as well be half-fox with the Upper East Side as her henhouse of choice. She bursts into the movie in a flurry of russet tones and fur, loping down the hallway of a boarding school to extract her young son, Malcolm, against the protests of the flustered administrator. Frances, a notorious Manhattan socialite whose encounters always end with an implied snap of the teeth, doesn’t seem to have been much of a presence in the kid’s life until that point, but she wins his loyalty forever with a sly offer of “Want to come away with me?” You can’t blame him for being swept up—his mother is a thrillingly undomesticated presence in their stuffy world of wealth, exuding adventure and chaos.
When the film picks up years later, though, it finds Frances broke and in retreat. “My plan was to die before the money ran out, but I kept and keep not dying, and here I am,” she tells the financial adviser who has been overseeing her late husband’s estate. She’s not joking. When her best (and only) friend, Joan (Susan Coyne), offers to let her use an apartment in Paris, Frances hops on a ship with Malcolm (now played by Lucas Hedges), their cat, and a bag of her remaining cash, harboring vague ideas about ending things there.
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