French Exit

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
French Exit Movie Poster Image
Iffy messages in absurdist comedy with drinking, language.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes of death, family, loss, change. Messaging isn't positive, but a lasting impression will be made about consequences of fiscal irresponsibility: When the money runs out, the lead character doesn't feel like life is worth living. It's up to viewers to realize that this is a sad approach to life, as it's never explicitly messaged. 

Positive Role Models

Frances has a charismatic and magnetic personality but is entirely self-absorbed. She gives away a great deal of money to the unhoused, waiters, others, but her motivations are unclear -- and her generosity is to her own detriment. 

Violence

Brief physical altercation. A small fire is set, and it's implied that it's justified. Suicidal plans are established, revisited. A woman says her son was unwanted.

Sex

Off-camera sex. A sexual aid that resembles male genitalia is seen, discussed. Mention of a gigolo. Character talks positively about seeing an exposed penis.

Language

Strong language includes occasional use of "ass," "d--k," and "s--t" and persistent use of "f--k."

Consumerism

The film is all about the splendor of wealth.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The lead character smokes and drinks -- along with her friends and son -- throughout the film. Characters mention that "drinking is fun" and that alcohol "is better than water."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that French Exit is a quirky, character-driven comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer that's reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film. Her character, Frances, is the kind of socialite whose life makes the papers. She has continued to live large despite now being on a fixed income, saying that her plan was to die before the money ran out. That kind of fiscal irresponsibility might offer teens a meaningful lesson ... except that Frances is glamorous and magnetic, so she's still aspirational, even though she's meant to be appalling. What's especially problematic is that (spoiler alert) Frances sees suicide as a practical solution to her money woes. Another potentially upsetting moment involves her codependent adult son: She explains that he was an unwanted baby, so she sent him to boarding school and never picked him up until he was 12. The wealthy characters drink at all moments of the day, saying that people should drink because "it's fun" and liquor is "better than water." (They smoke a lot, too.) While no one has sex on camera, there is a dalliance between two characters, and an image of a sex toy leads to a conversation about how to use it. "F--k" is used persistently; other language includes "d--k" and "s--t." 

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What's the story?

When socialite Frances' (Michelle Pfeiffer) inheritance runs out, it appears that her days of being a wealthy, glamorous fixture in the social columns are over. Broke, she accepts an offer to stay in her friend's Paris apartment. Bringing her adult son, Malcolm (Lucas Hedges), and her cat, she plots her FRENCH EXIT.

Is it any good?

Pfeiffer embodies her insistently eccentric character with gusto in this dark comedy that doesn't always make sense. Frances is a socialite who lives in a lavish New York home and throws money around like it's confetti -- when she runs out of funds, she literally doesn't see the point in continuing to live. She isn't depressed so much as in a mood. Her character is arrogantly odd and defiantly confident. She has lived a glamorous life and can't stop living it, even when she no longer has the means to do so --  so, there may be a message here for teen viewers on the importance of sticking to a budget. But that message might feel hollow, because we also see that after Frances liquidates her estate, she once again has stacks of cash that she spends frivously without much thought for herself or her son.

As played by Hedges, Malcolm has the personality of a dry ham sandwich. For the thoughtful, there's much that can be read into this. Families may want to talk about how a boy who was abandoned by a mother whom he reads about in the newspaper would behave after she finally retrieves him and starts showing him affection. Why Malcolm is unable to get a job at any point to support them, though, is a conundrum that feels more like a plot hole. That's one of several nagging issues, including the behavior of the other characters. At least Frances' cat tells us why he runs away (yes, the cat speaks, sort of). The characters aren't misfits, but they're not based in reality. Their inauthenticy is most noticeable when Frances' friend Joan (Susan Coyne) appears: She's the sanity, reason, and normalcy stepping into a wacky puddle. But this is Frances' story, and she makes a memorable impression. The method she chooses to make her "French exit" carries the mysterious allure that you'd expect from someone so magnificent -- and for parents with teens who are depressed or struggling, there's the chance that Frances' choices could make a strong impression on the impressionable. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of developing grit and resilience. Can there be a positive outcome from experiencing tough times?

  • How did Frances' financial irresponsibility eventually lead her to be insolvent? What do you think is behind her generosity in tipping and giving large sums of money to the unhoused?

  • How are drinking and smoking portrayed in French Exit? Is substance use glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • What are the acts of compassion we see from Frances' friend Joan? Does the film make you feel compassion for Frances? Why, or why not?

  • How does the film address suicidal ideation? Do you know where to go for help if you or someone you know is considering suicide?

Movie details

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