How Sony Pictures Classics has sold a movie about falling from the 1 percent.
“Schitt’s Creek” became a TV sensation for a number of reasons, including its heartwarming story of a family that finds itself suddenly losing its fortune and having to do without in new surroundings. French Exit, now out nationwide after a limited release in mid-February, covers similar ground but in a slightly different setting.
Michelle Pfieffer stars as Frances Price, a Manhattan socialite who has led a comfortable lifestyle thanks to the sizable inheritance from her late husband Franklin (Tracy Letts). When she finds that the money she’s counted on has been almost completely exhausted, she decides to move from New York to Paris with her son Malcolm (Lucas Hedges). The two try to make a new life there in an apartment borrowed from a friend, with new acquaintances, experiences and more coming along the way.
The studio’s campaign has focused on Pfeiffer (never a bad idea) and sold a family drama about finding a new way after what’s familiar disappears.
Frances and Malcolm – as well as their cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of the late Franklin – are shown on the one and only poster, released in December. The two/three are sitting in the back of a town car, but what they’re doing there is unclear as there’s no other context given, including a lack of copy or tagline. Instead most of the poster’s real estate is devoted to pull quotes from positive reviews, largely coming out of festivals and other screenings, to help make the case to the audience.
Frances is being informed, as the first trailer (861k views on YouTube) from early December opens, that the money she inherited and has been living on has run out. When a friend offers her an empty apartment in Paris she takes her grown adult son with her and moves across the ocean. That offers Frances plenty of new opportunities to create uncomfortable situations, be rude (either intentionally or unintentionally) to new acquaintances and otherwise continue on with her odd and unusual life.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website has the basic marketing materials, including trailers and a synopsis, but it’s mostly about selling tickets. Sony Classics’ page for the film has that as well as a gallery of stills.
Advertising and Promotions
Sony Pictures Classics acquired the film in September of 2019. About a year later, in August 2020, it was announced the movie would close the New York Film Festival, which was going to be structured differently because of the Covid-19 pandemic. That NYFF screening was followed by a number of positive reviews, especially for Pfeiffer’s performance.
The first official clip, released in early February, shows the moment Frances finds out she’s broke.
Commercials like this were used online as well as presumably as TV spots.
Media and Press
An interview with Pfieffer and Hess had them talking about getting involved with the film, how they worked with Jacobs and more during NYFF. Pfieffer again talked about being given the opportunity to get weird in her performance.
A later interview with Pfieffer had her talking about how she approached playing her character and working with Hedges. Similar ground was covered in another conversation that also reflected on her place among Hollywood royalty.
Pfieffer talked about shooting the film in France when she appeared on “Kimmel” in January and about her trepidation in taking on the role when she appeared on “Late Night.” Hedges later appeared on “Kimmel” as well.
She and Hedges were interviewed jointly about working together and shooting in Paris and Pfieffer spoke about her career in general and how this film fits into that here.
Two important points come to me when reviewing the campaign from top to bottom.
First, It’s surprising in some regards that the marketing effectively ended (save for a few additional social media updates from SPC) in mid-February, when the movie’s limited release began. That leaves a long time for people to think about other movies, but given how the press has been dominated by bigger releases, the studio may have been banking on all the oxygen in the room being taken up. And it doesn’t seem it’s making a big awards push, or there would have been more.
Second, this feels like another step in the revitalization of Pfeiffer, a process that began a few years ago with mother!. And I for one am here for it.