Tag Archives: Azazel Jacobs

Exit Stage Gauche

French Exit

by George Wolf

So, it seems your quick, stealthy exit migrates from Irish to French when excess alcohol is not involved.

Good to know, I had to look it up.

Francis Price (Michelle Pfeiffer) certainly enjoys a good martini, but her exit plan is a bit more serious than just ducking out of the local bar unnoticed.

After years of living high as a Manhattan socialite, Francis’s inheritance is nearly gone. So after selling off what they can, Francis and her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges) head to Paris to stay in her best friend’s empty apartment. When the last dollar is finally spent, Francis plans to kill herself.

It sounds pretty dramatic, but writer Patrick DeWitt (who also penned the source novel) and director Azazel Jacobs start peppering in the absurdity and black comedy as soon as mother and son are aboard a ship to France.

Malcolm leaves his fiancee Susan (Imogen Poots) behind, and hooks up with Madeleine (Danielle Macdonald) en route. Madeleine is a medium, and she soon becomes Francis’s conduit for summoning the late Mr. Price (Tracy Letts) when his soul returns in a cat.

Pfeiffer is cold, condescending perfection. Francis’s words for nearly everyone she encounters practically drip with contempt, and Pfeiffer is always able to keep the film’s tricky tonal balance from toppling toward either maudlin or silly.

She enjoys a wonderful chemistry with Hedges, who impresses yet again as a young man who is still coming to grips with the lack of affection in his upbringing, his mother’s icy worldview, and how they’ve both affected his ability to relate to other people.

And soon, there are plenty of other people to relate to in the Paris flat. There’s the neighbor who desperately wants to make friends (a scene-stealing Valerie Mahaffey), Madeleine the medium, a detective hunting for the runaway cat (Isaach De Bankole), ex-fiancee Susan and her new man (Daniel di Tomasso), and Joan, who actually owns the apartment (Susan Coyne)!

You’d be quick to label the entire affair a Wes Anderson knockoff if Jacobs (The Lovers, Mozart in the Jungle, Doll & Em) didn’t fill the center with such unabashed heart. The affection between mother and son is never in doubt, and Pfeiffer’s delicious turn makes sure Francis never becomes a villain, just a fascinating and darkly funny mess.

With its self-conscious quirks and surface-level satisfactions, this is a French Exit more obvious than most. But thanks to Pfeiffer and a sharply drawn ensemble, it’s never less than wicked fun.

Isn’t It Romantic?

The Lovers

by George Wolf

Just who are The Lovers?

Michael and his mistress Lucy? Mary and her boyfriend Robert? Or, could it be Michael and Mary, even after all those years of marriage?

Credit writer/director Azazel Jacobs for turning the romantic dramedy inside out, weaving sly writing and touching performances into a thoroughly charming take on the resilience of love and the frustrating struggle to pin it down.

Tracy Letts and Debra Winger are both wonderful as Michael and Mary, a dispassionate husband and wife who have grown to give each other only slightly more regard than the pieces of furniture in their suburban home.

Lucy (Melora Walters) is impatiently waiting for Michael to ask for a divorce, while Robert (Aiden Gillen) is expecting the same from Mary. Both are assured the time will finally come after the upcoming visit from Michael and Mary’s son Joel (Tyler Ross).

But when an old spark is reignited, suddenly it’s the Mr. and Mrs. who are sneaking away from their side pieces for some passionate alone time.

Such a premise could easily crumble into sitcom-ready zaniness, but Jacobs isn’t mining for cheap laughs. His script does have moments of effectively dry humor, but The Lovers is just as likely to uncover truths through a heavy silence.

Both Letts and Winger effortlessly wear the weariness of their characters. We may not know exactly why they’ve drifted apart, but the actors convey such a reliable authenticity we are rooting for Michael and Mary almost immediately.

The Lovers is sneaky in its casual nature. Through subtle storytelling and stellar performances, it finds meaning in places rarely explored this effectively, and a gentle confidence that frayed emotions can still bond.