The tradition of screwball comedy — flavored with cusp-of-the-millennium angst — is alive and well in “French Exit,” a sprightly tale of two L.A. screenwriters who get off on the wrong foot enough times to pass for centipedes before conceding that they’re made for each other. Indie pic should find a domestic distrib without difficulty and, with friendly reviews, stands to reap satisfactory returns at urban wickets before exiting toward ancillary markets and video shelves.
Co-scripter Daphna Kastner, known for her acting roles in the Henry Jaglom pics “Eating” and “Venice/Venice,” makes a creditable directing debut that favors comic timing without rushing the action.
In a Los Angeles beset by brush fires, mudslides and earthquakes, Zina (Madchen Amick) and Davis (Jonathan Silverman) first collide — literally — while maneuvering their cars out of highway traffic beneath a fractured overpass. Their banter devolves from cordial to insulting in record time, and suddenly the snarling scribes can’t make a move on the Hollywood party-and-eatery circuit without bumping into each other. An emotional juggling act ensues when Davis finds himself vying with his new nemesis-cum-love interest for the same writing assignment.
As adorable as she is maladroit, Amick convinces as the young hopeful with moxie. She and Silverman generate pleasantly believable if not match-of-the-century chemistry. Further complicating the quasicutthroat landscape is Alice (Molly Hagan), Zina’s glib roommate, who claims to mean well but harbors a hidden agenda. Vince Grant scores as a charming but penniless British actor whose primary talents are sponging off friends and saying precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time. Kurt Fuller is a hoot as a producer who’s bored by his own power.
Although everyone is competitive, nobody is truly vicious, which situates “French Exit” in more fanciful and forgiving territory than such depictions of the film biz as “Swimming With Sharks.”
Along with requisite digs about agents, producers and other showbiz types (overheard party conversation: “We’re gonna get Coppola to direct.” “Oh, I love Francis.” “No — Sofia.”), often snappy dialogue puts a knowing spin on the quid pro quos of trying to mix Hollywood lifestyles with lasting romance. Although the trimmings are L.A. all the way, anyone anywhere who’s trying to juggle career and family obligations will get the drift.
Tech aspects, including the use of mellow musical standards, are good. Title is a term for slipping out of a party without saying goodbye to anyone.