Whether F. Scott Fitzgerald actually said "the very rich are not like you and I" or some approximation thereof, the words seem to have lodged themselves in the popular consciousness.
The new movie, French Exit, suggests yet another twist: The very rich are not like you and I -- even after they lose their money.
Based on a novel by Patrick deWitt who also wrote the screenplay, French Exit tells the story of Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer), a Manhattan widow who has spent her entire fortune and has been told by her accountant that penury awaits.
Ill prepared for a life without funds Frances tells her accountant that she never planned to outlive her money.
After selling her remaining belongings, Frances and her son Malcolm -- Lucas Hedges as a young man whose every gesture suggests defeat -- head for Paris. A friend has loaned Frances an apartment in the City of Light.
Frances might be thinking of killing herself. Why else would she wantonly spend the money she collected selling off the contents of her New York apartment? She seems dedicated to reaching the end of her rope.
But that's only half the story. Under the direction of Azazel Jacobs, the movie morphs into a collection of eccentricities, many found in the person of Francis, who's played by Pfeiffer with a mixture of rue, raised eyebrows, and shrugging indifference to the pain of others.
Not long after arriving in Paris, Frances and Malcolm dine in a restaurant where they're served cold omelets. Eager to leave, Malcolm requests the check. A waiter makes a show of ignoring them.
Frances's response: She sets a table vase containing small flowers on fire.
Pfeiffer takes full advantage of the showcase, proving herself a master of understated sarcasm and of unjustified nonchalance in the face of extreme adversity.
But, oh, those eccentricities just won't quit.
Danielle Macdonald turns up as Madeleine the Medium, a fortune-teller hired by Frances to conduct seances so that she can communicate with her late husband.
A terrific Valerie Mahaffey tempers a comic turn with sadness as a woman who befriends Frances in Paris. Isaach De Bankole appears as a private detective who's hired as part of Frances's effort to locate the pet cat she has smuggled into Paris. The cat has run off.
According to Frances, the cat embodies the spirit of her late husband Franklin and, thus, is called Little Frank. This, I hope, explains the earlier-mentioned seances.
For most of the movie Malcolm remains a drip who abandons his fiancee (Imogen Poots) to move with his mother to Paris. He’s a young man locked into dependency on an unreliable mother.
Frances's morbid and mordant ways seem to have infected the proceedings which build toward a near farcical assembly of all the characters in Frances's borrowed Parisian apartment.
French Exit can be amusing, but spending time with these characters also can feel enervating. Despite some last-minute attempts to open emotional doors, the characters live in a movie that feels apart from us — not, as I said at the outset, like you and me.
Put another way, the characters in French Exit aren’t weird enough to be inescapably interesting or likable enough to spend much time caring about.