Michelle Pfeiffer: ‘It’s easier to have a French exit these days than it was many years ago’

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Michelle Pfeiffer covers the latest issue of Town & Country. She’s promoting French Exit, the dry-comedy about a formerly wealthy Manhattan social doyenne (played by Michelle) whose husband dies and she finds out there’s not much money left. She leaves New York and goes to Paris with her son and her cat. The term “French exit” means someone who leaves a social setting (a party, an event) suddenly, and without saying goodbye to anyone. I’ve read mixed reviews, but most critics love Michelle in her role. You can read the full T&C piece here – there are tons of quotes from Michelle’s coworkers, all of whom adore her. Some highlights:

She hates parties: “There’s a line in The Age of Innocence—I’m not sure if it’s actually in the novel or just in the movie—that says, ‘Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.’ I’ve been doing that my entire life.” Take, for example, Pfeiffer’s own 40th birthday. “Somebody threw a party for me, and it was just the worst evening. I have an eclectic group of friends, and they don’t necessarily gel, so I felt responsible—Why aren’t they talking? Are they not having a good time? I felt responsible, and I think that was the last party I ever had.”

On French exits: “I didn’t realize that there was something called a French exit until I read this script. And it’s something I do, so it made me feel better that this thing actually has a name.”

On her filmography: “Some of the performances I have felt the best about are ones for which I’ve gotten panned. The ones that make me cringe are typically when I got the best reviews. I saw Scarface and I went, ‘Eh, I’m okay.’ I rarely like my work. I only look at films once. It’s just too painful.”

Taking time off to raise her kids: “Before the kids were born, my work was my life—and it was in a good way. When they were small, I could just pack them up and bring them with me. But then it became, ‘Okay, how long will this separate the family unit?’ When they got into school it became even more complicated, because I didn’t want to just take them out of their routine, so I would shoot in the summer and tried to not be away for more than two or three weeks at a time. It became challenging for people to hire me, because it was too complicated. It was easier to get somebody else to do the part.”

When she was staring at her empty nest, she returned to work: “I realized my daughter was looking at colleges, and I saw the writing on the wall. I thought, This is going to hit me really hard. It’s time for me to get back into moviemaking.” It wasn’t quite so simple. “Your seat is never saved in this industry. It’s very competitive. There’s that transition time when you’re not the ingenue and you’re not really old enough to be the grandmother—you’re not old enough to play Frances. I’m at an age when the parts are getting more interesting again for me. I guess the timing of it really worked out, because I don’t feel I missed out on much.

It’s easy to French exit these days: “It’s easier to have a French exit these days than it was many years ago. Now you can just text people and say, ‘I had to run, didn’t want to be rude.’ ”

[From Town and Country]

Because Michelle was pretty lowkey about taking time off to raise her kids, I feel like the American public didn’t even realize how long she was away, or how she was barely even doing one film a year for a while. Like, she never made a big announcement of “I’m semi-retiring!” or “I’m back now!” I bet she was still getting scripts in those years too. Anyway, I love Michelle. I’m happy that she’s back to working somewhat full-time, and that Hollywood never stopped embracing her and her talent. She’s great. And I didn’t know it was called a “French exit” either. What’s an American exit? What’s an Indian exit? Hm. And I dislike parties too, unless I’m the host (which is historically super-rare). And even then, it’s like Michelle says – I’m stressed about people not having a good time.

Cover and IG courtesy of Town & Country.

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50 Responses to “Michelle Pfeiffer: ‘It’s easier to have a French exit these days than it was many years ago’”

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  1. Jillian says:

    I’ve only heard this called the “Irish Goodbye” (Chicago) but it is my go-to move. I’m not rude: if the host isn’t smashed or busy, I’ll thank them for having me. But otherwise, I just disappear :)

    • Peach says:

      Agreed! When I want to go, I want to GO. If people know you well enough, they totally get it.

      • Joan Rivers says:

        I need to say that she looks incredible! She’s always been the one I thought had the most class and most sense of any actress. And has always looked so great.

    • My ex husband was Jewish and his favorite joke was, “What’s the difference between a WASP and Jew? A WASP will leave a party without saying goodbye, and a Jew will say goodbye but never leave!”. My now husband is from Ireland and I have learned you can NEVER get off the phone with them. “Goodbye now, it was great talking, now give my love to everyone and be sure to tell Eileen I will use the bread recipe and did I tell you about Eileen’s cousin’s aunts neighbor? She had the covid and can’t taste bread! Ok now, I have to go make tea, We’ll talk soon….” It’s hilarious and you ahve to be brutal and just say, “love you got to go!”

    • emu says:

      Same – totally called irish goodbye. if anyone asks where you’re going say the bathroom XD

    • whatWHAT? says:

      yeah, I’ve always known it as an “Irish Goodbye”, I think that’s the more common term. I’ve never heard of the term “French Exit”.

      @laurelcanyoner, I believe that joke was first leveled by Carl Reiner but I could be wrong.

      • I bet you ANYTHING he stole it from Carl Reiner, lol. Believe it or not his father was good friends with him. I got to meet he and Mel Brooks. Absolutely lovely, courtly, old world gentlemen. I adored them, and I know and KNEW how luck I was!

    • yeperz says:

      It’s actually in Emily Post, to only say goodbye to people who are with you and or looking at you. It’s rude to find ppl and say goodbye. The latter don’t care.

      • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

        What a relief. I’ll share with the mister- Emily Post endorsed. We always feel compelled to say goodbye to the host. I don’t think I can get past that…maybe bc I don’t host anymore.

    • Riley says:

      I’m from Chicago too and this is classic “Irish Good-bye”

  2. Sandra says:

    Where I’m from, we call that the “Irish Goodbye.”

  3. Bebe says:

    Like the above posters, I’ve only heard the expression “Irish Goodbye”. Most French people would be mortified to leave a party without saying goodbye with “bisous” and all.

  4. Hannah Young says:

    Haha – I’m Irish Goodbye and my husband is Jewish Goodbye, where before leaving, you go around to say bye to everyone and spend another hour or two.

    • Jillian says:

      The Jewish Goodbye is also the standard Midwestern Goodbye, sometimes you don’t have that extra hour

      • Emm says:

        Ok I’m a born and raised Midwesterner, Great Lakes, and I’ve never heard of any of these but if the Jewish goodbye is in fact that hour + of going around and saying goodbye that is exactly what I have always done my whole life and I hate it. My husband has a huge family and extended family and it’s like you have to schedule and work yourself up for the goodbye because you have to go to everyone and it takes freaking forever! Thankfully we haven’t had to deal with this for the last year + because of covid and now that my in laws have shown how maga they are we probably won’t be seeing them much in the future but from now on I’m fully embracing this Irish goodbye.

      • NotSoSocialButterfly says:

        Ha! From a transplanted midwesterner (c.2004).

    • Sue Denim says:

      hahaha I was thinking the same thing about the Jewish goodbye (sounds like we have some mid-west cousins), you just do laps around everyone else, who’s doing the same thing, you grab little noshes along the way, an hour or two later, you’re at the door w your coat half on, still saying good bye… I find it so funny… and sweet

      • Emm says:

        Lol well I guess maybe your cousins are more pleasant. What bothers me is that people are usually sloshed by that time and they are very clingy and touchy feely and hanging off you and pressuring you to stay and have another drink.

      • Sue Denim says:

        oh I could see that, Emm, that does sound stressful… I think (or maybe it’s just me) ours is more internal, not wanting to make anyone feel bad, or leave anyone out, or god forbid make a faux pas, and then you just get into little chats as you go, like oh what a lovely necklace, well it was my great aunt so and so’s and on and on…and it’s either too interesting or too thoughtful to just be like bye… I’ve long thought btw that there are some really interesting parallels between Jewish and Irish culture (humor, love of language, outsider-ness, etc.) but this is def not one of them hahaha.

  5. Annaloo. says:

    I’ve heard Irish exit, but admit I’m too sensitive to use that remark. I also can’t tell blonde jokes or say h—ytonk. I know it’s me.

  6. AnnyB says:

    Funnily enough, in French, it’s called an English Exit (“filer à l’anglaise”) !

    • Normades says:

      Yup like many things that are called French, we call it English here. I live in France and my French husband would be mortified if we didn’t say goodbye at least to the hosts.

  7. Wendy Mitton says:

    I always thought French Exit had something to do with leaving a restaurant/bar without paying your bill – or am I getting that mixed up with something else?

  8. BeanieBean says:

    I’ve heard Hoda Kotb say that when she goes to parties, she spends the first five minutes saying hello to everyone then she leaves. I kinda like the Hoda Hello & have tried to adopt it. As for the movie, I really liked the book so I’m looking forward to the movie.

  9. Bean says:

    I adore her. That is all.

  10. Mia says:

    I bet they can see her cheekbones from the international space station. She’s always been a knockout. 🔥❤️

  11. Nikki* says:

    There’s no such thing in the South. We first say our goodbyes, then someone tells a last story. They press another sweet tea on you so you’re not thirsty on the way home, and another serving of pie. Everyone makes last conversation, literally following you to the car, where more stories are told. Then another round of goodbyes and hugs. Someone remembers one last pertinent thing their Mama used to say, so there is at least one more round of stories before you can actually shut the entire car door and drive…

    • Southern Fried says:

      Lol Nailed it.

    • Julia K says:

      My Minnesota Scandinavian grandma used to do the same, in place of tea and pie we had coffee and fresh donuts.

    • Imara219 says:

      LOL, so true. I didn’t know something like this existed, just leaving a party without saying goodbye. If you leave a party “early” or without saying the proper good-bye with is a good-bye extension then you are persona non-gratia and everyone will be phoning each other up to talk trash about your low morals. I’m from NC. You better take that last sweet tea and listen to the final round of “and then…”.

    • Roo says:

      It is the same for South Asians, but the tea is hot not iced. 😆

  12. Case says:

    I just clicked on this story to find out what the heck a French Exit was. Lol! I’m looking forward to this movie.

  13. anniefannie says:

    I’m infamous in my circle for the Irish goodbye. At one party I apparently asked my besties husband to save my seat. His wife kept asking to leave and he finally told her “ I can’t I’m supposed to save Annie’s seat!” Knowing my habit she rolled her eyes and said “ She’s left, she never says she’s leaving but trust me.”
    Now I eliminate the ask and slink…

  14. Bella says:

    another one for “Irish Goodbye”

  15. emu says:

    I feel the same about hosting parties – always have too many expectations and feel so anxious.

    Also have heard of it as irish goodbye.

  16. whatWHAT? says:

    I know they’re nothing alike but when I first ready “French Exit” all I could think of was “The French Mistake”. VOILA!

  17. Jezebeelzebub says:

    I’ve only ever heard it called a French Exit- go figure. I dont do it, though. The thing I do is just like a French Exit only its German. I dont, like, slide out of a party or whatever without saying anything. I stand up, say “I’m out” and “thank you” to the host(s) and then I leave. I just…. go away.

    I guess if I had to name this maneuver, I’d call it ” Fertig”. I got it from my great aunt (Tante Hilde). Her way of ending a phone call was to basically say “ok, take care- finished”. (“Mach’s gut- fertig!”) And then she would hang up. My other Tantes might say that, or maybe “tchuss” or “bis bald” but Tante Hilde always closed with “fertig!” and I’ve always thought that was such a baller move so I adopted/adapted it for my own use. Sometimes I’ll actually say “fertig!” if I’m in extremely familiar company. Otherwise I just go with “I’m out” and maybe do the 2 fingers “deuces” gesture, if that seems appropriate. It all amounts to the same thing, though- I get to leave when I’m ready to leave. It’s weird but I’m comfortable with that.

    Fertig, yall.

  18. Renewal says:

    I love Michelle. She’s managed her long-lived career because she has acting chops. The Age of Innocence – heartbreaking performances from the actors.

  19. greenmonster says:

    Where I am from we know it as “Polish Departure”.

  20. Yeahwhat says:

    I always called this doing a Houdini, glad to know it is a real thing. If it’s a big party I prefer to do this but if it’s a small group I always make a point of saying goodbye. There’s the saying ‘how we leave is just as important as how we arrive’ and this sticks with me.

  21. Amelie says:

    I think the term French exit is more widely used in the UK than in the US which makes sense since France and the UK are right next to each other. Hilariously the French expression is “filer à l’anglaise” (more or less the British exit) so they blame the English. I’ve always heard it called the Irish exit/goodbye in the US.

    And I have French relatives and I can tell you it’s worse than Midwestern or Jewish families. It takes FOREVER to say goodbye at a French gathering. You’ll say “we should get going” and keep talking for 20 more minutes. Then you might stand up and mention it again and the host stands up, then you keep talking for another 30 minutes. Then you get your coats on but again another 15 minutes may pass. There is talking at every stage of the departure process so that you’ll leave a full hour later than you meant to. And it’s even worse when you arrive because you have to do la bise greeting with every single person there. And every time a new person arrives they interrupt and go around the room to do la bise and you can’t do anything until they are done. Post COVID-19 I have the best excuse to never do it again and will use that for the rest of my life LOL. Be like “Sorry I have COVID19 PTSD.” The comedian Paul Taylor who is British has a great skit on French greetings and goodbyes look it up on Youtube!

  22. NotSoSocialButterfly says:

    I’ve not come across either term…but I have a friend who referred to a mild hangover in yoga as the “Irish flu.” Also “Irish twins.” I’m thinking the Irish are a hilariously colorful/descriptive people.