French Exit: a movie about toxic, white privilege, or just a toxic, white privileged movie?

Image: People

As a movie, French Exit is a questionable experience.

The unexpectedly odd Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle conjures up laughs and acid reflux in equal measure.

A significant portion of the movie is spent wondering just what it’s trying to be.

It’s hard to tell if it’s lack of self-awareness is either a crafty, comic device or white privilege run amok.

As such, French Exit is either a brilliant black comedy or a racist, narcissistic, consumerist nightmare.

This is a movie bound to draw different reactions from different demographics.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays fascist, Boomer-era iconography as socialite Frances Price.

It’s never made quite clear why Frances is as famous as the story clearly wants us to believe she is.

She was young, beautiful, rich and in New York; and for decades, American culture has told us that was enough to do it.

Price is Martha Stewart by way of Jessica Rabbit… Or Kellyanne Conway by way of Paris Hilton?

Either way, it’s a dark, comedy cliche that tantalises but remains unresolved.

Pfeiffer knows this lady isn’t likeable and all the best moments are her work, not the writers.

It’s a divalicious performance with all the hallmarks of an iconic trainwreck narrative.

Only we’ve arrived after the actual wreck and are left to spend 110 long minutes as the survivors ponder who to eat first.

Lucas Hedges wafts throughout playing Price’s inane son Malcolm.

He’s symbolic of the neutered, western millennial… or Oedipus… or something.

It barely matters.

There’s also a millennial “gypsy witch”, a black cat embodying a dead husband and an American widow somehow named Madame Renard with a dildo in her freezer.

“How colourful and daring.”

But this is more than a catalogue of toxic Western humour disguised behind its own aspirations of sophisticated wit.

Though it is that too.

In an early scene, Pfeiffer’s character romanticises the homeless.

A rosey cheeked white fella in Central Park justifies his need for $20 to her satisfaction.

He then ambles off gratefully to consume a few gallons of booze and a pack of smokes while “staring up at the stars.”

A cop appears to check all is in order only for Pfeiffer to smack him down.

The effect is of Eva Braun confronting a member of the SS in April 1945 and musing “weren’t you a huge mistake.”

It’s no accident the settings are New York and Paris.

They’re both jewels in the Western crown, but sadly only diamonds, and other cultures have long since realised good marketing was all that ever made them special.

As the wealthy white characters approach their first high water mark of elegant offensiveness, a private detective of African descent appears on cue.

His task is to find the millennial “gypsy witch” so she can hold a seance and contact a dead husband inside a missing cat.

He doesn’t bat an eye.

He accepts his retainer and navigates their rich white people nonsense with the charming bedside manner of a health care professional in a ward of demnetia patients.

It’s at this point we’re told Frances Price, near the end of her fortune and her tether, will soon kill herself.

One supporting character is bothered by this.


Price then shimmers into a park where a BIPOC homeless guy we’ve been told has a big schlong declines to take what’s left of her money.


He points our heroine to another homeless bloke.

This new BIPOC guy does the most realistic thing in the entire movie, silently pocketing the cash and exiting stage right.

He has no need of gratitude or pity.

The audience is clearly supposed to be disappointed he doesn’t thank his white saviour.

Because that scans.

At some point in French Exit you can only realise, if it is an allegory for the fall of white privilege, it can’t help but be toxic and ridiculous.

Frances Price was possibly once a human, but she’s been twisted by privilege like a fashionista orc.

Her heavily romanticised (thankfully, off screen) suicide is also a last ditch attempt to be relevant or interesting.

Rage! Rage! Frances Price against the night.

It’s based on a novel so at some point, someone, somewhere found this funny.

Pfeiffer’s character has spent her entire privileged life draped in self-destructive, self-obsession.

Mortifyingly, that’s supposed to be impressive.

Her youth has gone. Her money is going. The world is an ungrateful alien unwilling to play along with her power games.

The (white) children are emasculated hipsters.

Only thing left it seems is to randomly break things on the way to the exit.

Peak Boomer is a bleak aesthetic, but this movie crushes it.

Whether that’s what it was going for is a whole other question.

Individual taste can only discern whether it’s entertaining.

But like it’s leading lady, it’s certainly a mood.