Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Bill Murray, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas

February 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Paul Rudd, Kathryn Newton and Evangeline Lilly in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania”

Directed by Peyton Reed

Culture Representation: Taking place in an underworld universe called Quantumania, and briefly in San Francisco, the sci-fi/fantasy/action film “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (based on Marvel Comics characters) features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing superheroes, regular humans and alien creatures.

Culture Clash: Scott Lang (also known as superhero Ant-Man), his formerly estranged daughter Cassie Lang, Scott’s girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (also known as superhero The Wasp) and Hope’s parents get dragged into the Quantum Realm, where they have to battle evil forces, led by Kang the Conqueror. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of Marvel movie fans, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and superhero movies that are very predictable, corny and formulaic.

Paul Rudd and Jonathan Majors in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is a quantum mess. It’s bad enough that it recycles tired clichés of Marvel movies. This uneven superhero movie also rips off 1977’s “Star Wars” in many ways. Jonathan Majors’ standout performance can’t save this substandard spectacle. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is supposed to be the start of Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The movie will no doubt make blockbuster money, as all MCU movies have done so far. But in terms of creativity, this disappointing film is a stumble right out of the gate for the MCU’s Phase 5.

One of the biggest problems with “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is how it awkwardly balances comedy with action. The jokes are the most juvenile, tackiest and least funny so far in the “Ant-Man” movie series, which began with 2015’s “Ant-Man” and continued with 2018’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Peyton Reed is the director of all three movies, which makes his creative choices even more baffling for “Quantumania,” which has a drastically different tone (and lower quality as a result) than the first two “Ant-Man” movies.

When writer/director Taika Waititi directed 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (the third “Thor” movie of the MCU), he radically changed the tone of the “Thor” movie series to make it fit his signature comedic style: goofy and slightly offbeat. Waititi did the same for 2022’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” to less well-received results. But it doesn’t explain why the third “Ant-Man” movie has gone so far off-course when it’s had the same director for the first three “Ant-Man” movies.

Much of the blame for why “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned into a hodgepodge of bad jokes, sci-fi rehashes and superhero triteness has to with the movie’s screenplay, which is the feature-film debut of Jeff Loveness. Loveness’ previous writing experience is for shows such as the Adult Swim animated series “Rick and Morty,” the ABC variety talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards, the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2017 Academy Awards, with these particular award shows all hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. All of these TV shows require a different skill set than what’s required to write an entertaining superhero movie. Unfortunately, hiring a TV writer with no experience in writing movies turned out to be a huge mistake for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and Marvel Studios.

In “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” the story begins right after the events of 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a former petty criminal also known as Ant-Man (whose superpower is being able to change the height of his body by wearing a special superhero suit), is a happily retired superhero living in his hometown in San Francisco. Scott has cashed in on his superhero fame by writing a memoir titled “Look Out for the Little Guy!,” where he talks about his superhero experiences and what they have taught him about life.

The movie shows Scott reading excerpts from his book at a book signing, but a few people there still mistake him for the more famous Spider-Man. Scott tells the small audience at this book signing, “From now on, the only job I want is to be a dad.” However, the movie unrealistically shows that middle-aged Scott, in his superhero “retirement,” has chosen to take a low-paying job as a customer service employee at a local Baskin-Robbins store. He has been named Employee of the Century because of his celebrity status as Ant-Man.

It’s really the movie’s obvious brand placement for Baskin-Robbins, but viewers are given the weak explanation that Scott took the job because he loves ice cream. It all looks very awkward and fake. The movie’s overload of Baskin-Robbins brand promotion is extremely annoying. There’s even a scene where a Scott Lang look-alike named Jack, who’s a Baskin-Robbins employee, gets in on the fight action. It’s all so crass and stupid.

Get used to seeing a lot of “look-alikes” in this movie, because much of it takes place in an alternate universe where clones of people and clones of creatures can show up randomly. Scott is trying to reconnect with his 18-year-old daughter Cassandra “Cassie” Lang (played by Kathryn Newton), who was raised primarily by Scott’s ex-wife while Scott was off doing other things, such as being a criminal-turned-superhero. Cassie has turned into a social justice warrior who’s involved in civil protests.

In the beginning of the movie, Cassie has landed in the San Francisco County Jail, because she was arrested for shrinking a police car because the police were trying to clear out an illegal homeless camp. Scott and his intelligent and sassy girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly), also known as superhero The Wasp (she can turn into a wasp mutant and can also shrink her body height), have arrived at the jail to retrieve Cassie. It’s how Scott finds out to his dismay that Cassie is also an aspiring scientist who invented her own shrinkage suit. She hasn’t given herself a superhero name though.

Scott thinks Cassie is too young to get involved in superhero antics. Cassie thinks Scott has become too complacent and thinks he should care more about making the world a better place. Hope and Cassie have bonded with each other because Hope is now the leader of the Pym Van Dyne Foundation, which uses Pym Particle (the body morphing invention used by Ant-Man and The Wasp) for humanitarian causes. Of course, it’s already been revealed in the “Quantumania” trailer that Scott will literally be sucked back into superhero activities, whether he likes it or not.

Hope’s parents are scientists Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who were the original Ant-Man and The Wasp. As the movie over-explains and over-repeats in pedestrian dialogue, Janet was trapped in an alternative universe called the Quantum Realm for 30 years and doesn’t like to talk about what she experienced there. Janet returned to Earth when Hank rescued her from the Quantum Realm, as shown in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

However, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” makes a big misstep by giving away in an opening scene that Janet actually was acquainted with the movie’s chief villain: Kang the Conequeror (played by Majors) while she was in the Quantum Realm, where Janet and Kang are seen escaping an attack from a giant insect-like creature. The movie should have left it a mystery until the right moment to show that Janet already knew this villain. Instead, this part of the plot is revealed too early in the film.

At any rate, Scott finds out that Hank, Janet, Hope and Cassie have been studying ant science. Hope and Cassie in particular want to use this science to explore the Quantum Realm, but Janet has no interest in going back there. Janet won’t say why, but she will eventually make a confession later in the movie.

Janet describes the Quantum Realm as a “place with no time and space. It’s a secret universe beneath ours.” To Janet’s horror, Cassie announces to Janet, Scott, Hank and Hope (while they are all in the scientific lab) that Cassie has been secretly sending signals to the Quantum Realm. Janet frantically tries to turn off the signal machine.

And faster than you can say “inferior Marvel movie sequel,” all five of them are sucked into the Quantum Realm, which looks like a half-baked “Star Wars” universe. For much the first third of the movie, Scott and Cassie are separated from Janet, Hank and Hope. Scott and Cassie spend a lot of time bickering over how much Cassie might or might not be ready to use her superhero suit. (Too late. We already know she will.)

Janet, Hank and Hope spend much of their time talking in vague tones about a mysterious “he” and “him” leader who has wreaked havoc on the Quantum Realm. Anyone can easily figure out that the “he” and “him” is Kang the Conqueror. There’s no reason to make him sound like “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort, also known in the “Harry Potter” series as He Who Shall Not Be Named. It’s yet another way that “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” takes ideas from other sci-fi/fantasy franchises.

Reed says in the production notes for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” where he got some of the visual influences for the movie: “We pulled together a lot of visual inspiration—everything from electron microscope photography to heavy metal magazine images from the ’70s and ’80s. I collected all of these images from old science-fiction paperback book covers—artists like John Harris, Paul Laird, Richard M. Powers. Those paintings were evocative and really moody. We liked that feel and tone for the look of the Quantum Realm.”

Reed curiously didn’t mention “Star Wars,” which is undoubtedly the biggest influence on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” The Quantum Realm’s terrain looks like a desert in some areas and looks like a crater-filled planet in other areas. The desert scenes look too much like the desert realm of Tatooine in “Star Wars,” while the hooded costumes worn by the Quantum Realm residents look an awful lot like the costumes worn by Tusken Raiders from “Star Wars.”

And if the “Star Wars” similarities for the production design and costume design weren’t enough, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” also imitates the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars,” but doesn’t make it nearly as fun and interesting to watch. Hank, Janet and Hope end up in a place called Axia Restaurant, which is basically a “Star Wars” cantina look-alike filled with unusual-looking creatures. There’s no memorable music at the Axia Restaurant, like there was in the Mos Eisley cantina. Christophe Beck’s musical score for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is serviceable and unremarkable.

It’s at Axia Restaurant where Hope and Hank meet the smirking Lord Kylar (played by Bill Murray) for the first time. Janet already knows Lord Kylar, who says he is neither a human nor a machine. Lord Kylar, who is the governor of the Axia community, hints that he and Janet used to be lovers when she was in the Quantum Realm.

“I had needs,” Janet tells Hank and Hope in a somewhat defensive and uncomfortable tone. Hope then has to hear Hank talk about an ex-girlfriend. And she acts like a prudish teen who doesn’t want to think about her parents having love lives before they met each other. This is the type of time-wasting dialogue that’s supposed to pass as “comedy” in the movie.

Even though Murray shares top billing for “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” his role in the movie is just a cameo that lasts for less than 15 minutes. It’s ineffective and misguided casting because he’s not convincing as this fictional character. All viewers will think is that this is Murray in a space-alien costume playing a version of himself.

As for the other inhabitants of the Quantum Realm, it’s a random mix of beings who look like humans and those who are very non-human in appearance, including a lot of jellyfish-like creatures that float around in space. As soon as Scott and Cassie arrive in the Quantum Realm, they are force-fed a red ooze by a creature named Veb (voiced by David Dastmalchian), because this red ooze will help these humans understand the language of the Quantum Realm residents. Dastmalchian had the role of Kurt (a member of Scott’s posse) in the first two “Ant-Man” movies. Veb is an underdeveloped character that is meant to be comedic, but Veb’s jokes fall very flat.

The Quantum Realm residents predictably greet these newcomers from Earth with reactions that range from curiosity to hostility. Jentorra (played by Katy O’Brian) is an anti-Kang freedom fighter who scowls a lot and has to learn to trust these Earth heroes to be her allies. Xolum (played by James Cutler, also known as Jamie Andrew Cutler) is a loyal soldier and totally generic sidekick of Jentorra.

Quaz (played by William Jackson Harper) is a psychic/telepath, whose only purpose in the movie is to make people uncomfortable by reading their thoughts and saying their thoughts out loud. His revelations are supposed to be amusing, but they’re not really all that funny. Randall Park has a small and non-essential role as FBI agent Jimmy Woo.

Corey Stoll returns as “Ant-Man” villain Darren Cross, also known as Yellowjacket, who has now been shrunken by Kang into a subatomic lackey with an oversized head known as M.O.D.O.K., which stands for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. M.O.D.O.K. looks like a floating head and delivers some of the few genuinely comedic moments in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Various characters in the movie have horrified reactions to seeing Darren look so drastically different as M.O.D.O.K., but this gag is repeated too much and loses its impact by the middle of the movie.

As for Kang, Majors’ performance is the only one that brings a certain gravitas to the rampant foolishness and smarm that stink up “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Majors brings a combination of menace and melancholy to his role, but it’s wasted in a movie that is hell-bent on trying to be more like Waititi’s “Thor” movies. The rest of the cast members’ performances aren’t bad, but they’re not special either. Kang’s soldiers are Quantumnauts, which are as anonymous and soulless as the mostly CGI creations that they are.

Unfortunately, the big showdown fight scene is lot more montonous and unimaginative than it should have been. It ends abruptly and in a way that has been done already (and done much better) in many other sci-fi/fantasy/action movies. As for the movie’s visual effects, it’s a shame that a movie with this big budget can make visual effects look so cheap and shoddy. There are scenes that make it obvious where the “blue screens” and “green screens” were.

A mid-credits scene and end-credits scene basically show the return of a major character from the movie. The end-credits scene is a nod to the Disney+ series “Loki.” As an example of how “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has a sitcom tone to it, the movie uses John Sebastian’s 1976 hit “Welcome Back” (the theme from the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter”) as bookends to the movie. A big-budget superhero movie should not look like a second-rate sitcom, which is what “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” has turned out to be.

Marvel Studios will release “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in U.S. cinemas on February 17, 2023.

Review: ‘French Exit,’ starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges

February 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges in “French Exit” (Photo by Tobias Datum/Sony Pictures Classics)

“French Exit”

Directed by Azazel Jacobs

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and Paris, the comedy/drama “French Exit” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person and one Asian person) representing the wealthy, middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An American socialite widow and her young adult son relocate from New York City to Paris after she loses her fortune.

Culture Audience: “French Exit” will appeal primarily to fans of star Michelle Pfeiffer and to people who like stories about drastic life changes, but the movie’s abrupt shift from realism into becoming a wacky supernatural story might annoy some viewers.

Pictured from left to right (in front) Danielle Macdonald, Valerie Mahaffey and Imogen Poots; (in back) Isaach de Bankolé, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Coyne in “French Exit” (Photo by Lou Scamble/Sony Pictures Classics)

The comedy/drama film “French Exit” starts out as a straightforward story about two Americans who’ve relocated to Paris, but then takes a bizarre turn that involves a psychic, a missing cat and a plot that becomes about reincarnation. Despite impressive performances from co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges, “French Exit” is a messy, uneven film that tries to be too quirky for its own good. The characters in the movie act more and more ridiculous until the story reaches a very uninspired and tepid conclusion.

Directed by Azazel Jacobs and written by Patrick DeWitt (who adapted the screenplay from his 2018 novel of the same name), “French Exit” begins with a flashback scene of the story’s two main characters. Haughty socialite Frances Price (played by Pfeiffer) and her 12-year-old son Malcolm (played by Eddie Holland) hastily leave the boarding school where Frances has arrived to withdraw his enrollment. Frances has taken Malcolm back home to live with her in their spacious New York City townhouse.

The next time that viewers see Frances and Malcolm (played by Hedges), it’s now 12 years later. Frances’ husband Franklin (who was Malcolm’s father) has been dead for 12 years, and Frances has run out of the money that she inherited. She’s also been told that the house is in foreclosure and she’s going to be locked out of her home in a matter of weeks. It’s implied that either Franklin left behind a lot of debts that Frances (who is now 60 years old) could not pay and/or that Frances racked up a lot of debts on her own after Frank’s death. At one point in the movie, Frances says she’s never worked a day in her life and she has no intention of ever doing so.

After Frances gets over the shock and denial that she’s no longer wealthy and is about to be homeless, she takes her accountant’s advice to sell all of her jewelry, artwork and many other possessions, in order to get enough cash for the near future. Frances has almost no friends, but she has the good luck of having a socialite confidante named Joan (played by Susan Coyne), who generously offers her unused Paris apartment as a place for Frances and Malcolm to stay.

Frances accepts the offer, even though her pride is wounded by having to take this charitable handout. Frances is so broke that she can’t afford to pay the $600 salary that she owes to her maid Sylvia (played by Christine Lan), who demands to be paid in cash because Sylvia’s most recent paycheck from Frances was returned due to insufficient funds. Frances doesn’t have the cash, but Malcolm does, so he pays the $600 that’s owed. Sylvia isn’t going to be working for Frances for much longer anyway, because Frances has told Malcolm that they could be living in Paris “perhaps for the rest of our lives.”

Meanwhile, Malcolm is dealing with some problems in his love life. He has an on-again/off-again girlfriend named Susan (played by Imogen Poots), who’s slightly older and more emotionally mature than he is. Malcolm and Susan are secretly engaged, but he’s been afraid to tell his mother Frances. In fact, Malcolm tells Frances one day over breakfast that he and Susan are in a “holding pattern,” as in, his relationship with Susan is now on pause.

It becomes very obvious early on in the movie that Frances and Malcolm have a very co-dependent relationship. Frances is the type of domineering mother who probably doesn’t approve of anything that would result in Malcolm getting his own place and starting his own independent life. Just like his mother, Malcolm is somewhat of a loner. Unlike his mother, Malcolm is tactful when dealing with people and he doesn’t have a snobbish attitude.

Franklin is never seen in the movie in flashbacks, but his presence looms large over Frances and Malcolm, who talk about him often in this story. His voice is heard later in the movie, with Tracy Letts as the voice of Franklin. Based on what Frances and Malcolm say, Franklin was an emotionally distant and often-cruel husband and father. Frances mentions that her marriage to Franklin started off happy, but then it turned into a love/hate relationship.

Malcolm, who was never close to Franklin, only started to bond with Frances after she took Malcolm away from the boarding school. It’s implied that Frances only did so after Franklin died and she was lonely and needed someone else in the house to live with her. Malcolm is a socially awkward lost soul who clings to his mother for love but knows that his relationship with her can be very unhealthy.

Susan has been pressuring Malcolm to tell Frances that they are engaged, but he keeps postponing telling Frances this news. Malcolm and Susan are on the verge of breaking up when he tells Susan that he and his mother are moving to Paris the next day. Shocked and dismayed, Susan breaks up with Malcolm because she says there’s no point in continuing in the relationship if he’s going to live so far away. She also feels disrespected that Malcolm was keeping their engagement a secret from his mother.

And so, Frances and Malcolm pack up the modest number of their remaining possessions, including their black cat Small Frank, and head to Paris on a cruise ship. Before the trip, Frances converted all of their cash into euros to carry with her. And it’s a stash that gets smaller as the story continues.

During this journey across the Atlantic Ocean, Malcolm meets a woman who calls herself Madeleine the Medium (played by Danielle Macdonald), who works as a fortune teller on the ship. Frances first sees Madeleine giving bad news to an elderly woman, who is sobbing because Madeleine predicted that the woman would die soon. Malcolm is intrigued by Madeleine, and when he sees Madeleine alone at the ship’s bar one night, he strikes up a conversation with her.

At first, Madeleine is standoffish, but eventually she warms up to Malcolm, and they end up having a sexual tryst. She spends the night in the cabin that Malcolm shares with Frances. And the next morning, Frances seems unbothered by this overnight guest because she assumes that Madeleine is just a one-night stand.

And then, things get weird. At the ship’s bar, Malcolm meets a very drunk elderly man named Boris Maurus (played by Vlasta Vrana), who’s the ship’s doctor. Boris chuckles as he tells Malcolm that he wants to show Malcolm something on the ship. Where does Boris takes Malcolm? To the ship’s morgue. Boris explains to Malcolm that it’s not unusual for people to die on a cruise ship, but cruises never advertise this fact.

Boris also points out a recently deceased woman among the bodies and says that Madeleine had predicted that this woman would die. It’s the same woman whom Frances had seen sobbing during a fortune-telling session with Madeleine. Malcolm is predictably uncomfortable with being in the morgue, but he’s too polite to scold Boris for bringing him there. And so, Malcolm gives an awkward thank you to Boris and then makes a hasty exit. The main purpose of this scene, except for being morbid and creepy, is that it lets viewers know that maybe Madeleine’s psychic abilities are real.

When Frances and Malcolm arrive in Paris, there’s a somewhat comical scene of them illegally smuggling in Small Frank through customs. (Frances gave the cat a tranquilizer that rendered the cat unconscious, so she’s able to hide the cat in her travel bag.) After Frances and Malcolm settle into Joan’s apartment, they mostly keep to themselves, simply because they don’t know anyone in the area. It’s not the first time Frances has been to Paris, but the last time she was there was when she was on a trip with Franklin in happier times.

Malcolm gets lonely, so he calls Susan to invite her to visit him in Paris. He’s hurt and surprised to find out that she’s gotten back together with a boyfriend named Tom (played by Daniel di Tomasso), whom she dated when Susan and Tom were in college. Susan drops hints that it’s a rebound relationship on her part because she doesn’t want to be alone and because Tom is very much in love with her.

Malcolm reacts as if Susan has been cheating on him, by telling her that he still thinks of Susan as fiancée. It’s a hypocritical reaction, considering that Malcolm was acting very single and available when he hooked up with Madeleine. Malcolm also doesn’t tell Susan about Madeleine in this conversation. Susan is annoyed by Malcolm’s possessiveness, and she asks Malcolm not to contact her again.

When Malcolm and Frances first arrive in Paris, the movie drags a little in showing how bored and lonely they are. In one scene, Frances and Malcolm have lunch together in a fairly empty café. When they’re ready to leave, Malcolm asks the waiter to get the bill for the meal. The waiter rudely tells Malcolm to wait.

Malcolm and Frances watch as the waiter casually jokes around with a co-worker, as if he’s on a break and doesn’t need to attend to any customers. Frances gets visibly annoyed and then calmly puts some perfume on the small vase of flowers on the table, and then sets the flowers on fire. That definitely gets the waiter’s attention, and the horrified waiter can’t believe what he’s seeing. The waiter tells Frances that she’s crazy, as he and other employees rush to put out the fire, while Frances and Malcolm just sit there and smirk.

It’s a very unrealistic “only in a movie moment” (and there will be more to come as the story goes downhill), because in the real world, causing arson in a restaurant can get someone arrested. Perhaps this arson scene was supposed to make Frances look like a “badass” who doesn’t put up with anyone disrespecting her son. But it just makes her look mean-spirited and mentally unstable, with Malcolm as her enabler.

Malcolm and Frances soon meet someone who comes into their lives as a possible friend. Frances shows Malcolm a house party invitation from another American in Paris named Madame Renard (played by Valerie Mahaffey), a widow who used to run in the same New York City social circles as Frances. Malcolm and Frances go to the party at Madame Renard’s home and find out that they are the only guests.

It turns out that Madame Renard only invited the two of them to this party. Madame Renard confesses to Frances and Malcolm that she’s been lonely since her husband died and was hoping that she could become friends with Frances. Madame Renard gives effusive compliments to Frances and says that she’s always admired Frances from afar.

Even though it’s obvious that Madame Renard is feeling very emotionally vulnerable, Frances callously tells Madame Renard in a disgusted tone of voice that she’s not interested in being her friend and isn’t looking for any friends. Madame Renard looks crushed and embarrassed, while Malcolm makes a sincere apology for the way his mother is behaving.

Despite being insulted in her own home, Madame Renard invites Frances and Malcolm to stay for dinner. Frances eventually makes an apology to Madame Renard for being so rude, and makes the excuse that she’s going through a difficult time too. Madame Renard accepts the apology and she ends up spending more time with Frances and Malcolm.

Some viewers will have a hard time connecting to Frances and Malcolm, which is why “French Exit” isn’t the charming oddball movie that it wants to be. Frances is emotionally cold, usually selfish, and really isn’t that great of a mother. She also doesn’t seem to have any talent for anything. And she’s definitely not very smart, considering she had a lot of privileged advantages and yet ended up in this awful predicament at this stage in her life.

At one point in the movie, Frances declares: “My plan was to die before the money ran out.” It tells you a lot about how short-sighted, boring and empty her life is if all she has to show for it is an emotionally stunted son and a fortune she’s squandered (money that was earned by someone else, since Frances has never worked), thereby leaving her son’s future uncertain too. Most socialites at least have some hobbies, but Frances doesn’t seem to have any interests other than trying to be the center of attention and getting what she wants.

Malcolm is a man-child who’s fairly articulate and has good manners, but he’s completely sheltered from a lot of reality and wants to live in the same psychological “bubble” that Frances tries to use to shield herself from life’s harshest problems. He also doesn’t seem willing or concerned about finding a job to help with their financial problems. Frances is close to retirement age and has no job skills. But there’s no excuse for Malcolm, who’s young and healthy, for him not to try and find work. Is he really that lazy and incapable of problem solving? Apparently so.

An example of how socially clueless Malcolm can be is in the scene in New York when Malcolm told Susan that he was moving to Paris. He brought flowers to their lunch date, even though he probably knew that Susan would break up with him. Susan sees the absurdity of this romantic gesture and chastises Malcolm for bringing flowers to this date. It’s almost as if he thinks a gift of flowers could erase the bad news that he was moving to Paris.

However, Malcolm has a sympathetic side when viewers find out how much his parents neglected him when he was a child. There’s a scene that shows how deep Malcolm’s emotional wounds run in feeling unloved by his father. It explains why Malcolm can’t quite tear himself away from Frances, because he’s trying to get the unconditional love and approval from her that he didn’t get from his father. As toxic as his mother’s love can be, Malcolm thinks it’s better than nothing.

The filmmakers clearly didn’t want “French Exit” to be a typical mother/son movie, but in trying to buck convention too much, the movie falls off the rails. In the last third of “French Exit,” the movie then turns into a silly indulgence of séances and people who don’t know each other conveniently showing up in the same place in a short period of time to continue the absurdity. There’s also a private investigator named Julius (played by Isaach De Bankolé) who comes into the picture, for reasons that are explained in the movie.

The cinematography, costume design and production design make the movie look very stylish. (“French Exit” was actually filmed in Montreal.) But the music of “French Exit” is a weird mix of sitcom schlock in some scenes and classical elegance in other scenes. It’s an example of the wildly contrasting tones in this movie, which seems like it got weirder and weirder to distract viewers from the fact that Frances and Malcolm have very aimless lives. Paris is one of the most exciting and fascinating cities in the world, but this miserable mother and son of “French Exit” have such hollow lives that their boredom comes at the expense of making Paris and this movie look like mindless gimmicks.

Sony Pictures Classics released “French Exit” in select U.S. virtual cinemas in New York City and Los Angeles on February 12, 2021. The movie expands to more cities across the U.S. on April 2, 2021.

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