Little White Lies, writer-director Guillaume Canet’s ambitious follow-up to the Hitchcockian “whodunit” Tell No One, will certainly inspire discussion, although it might not warrant unabashed enthusiasm.
The film follows a group of Parisian friends who annually abscond to a seaside Cap Ferret home to escape the stresses of city life. But they are plagued with guilt during this year’s trip. While an interesting premise for a romantic comedy, or even a comedy-drama, the film attempts to incorporate too many genres for it to be truly successful.
Little White Lies opens with Ludo (Jean Dujardin) snorting coke at a club and leaving in the early hours of the morning only to be run down on his motorcycle by an oncoming truck. His friends gather to see him at the hospital in which he teeters between life and death. Ultimately, they choose not to cancel their yearly trip despite the tragedy, a decision that will disturb them throughout the film.
Max (Francois Cluzet), an obviously wealthy yet penny-pinching hotelier and restauranteur whose volatility and rage sets everyone on edge, funds the holiday. Another development adds to his hostility: His friend, Vincent (Benoit Magimel) has confessed his budding love for him. Vincent, who is married and has children, insists that he is not gay, which does nothing to calm Max, who launches into a homophobic tirade.
Other characters are just as troubled. Marion Cotillard makes an exceptional appearance as Marie, an anthropologist and former flame of Ludo, who has yet to find love in a sea of lovers. She is, above all, a free spirit who travels the world with little regard for those left behind.
Other miserables include Éric (Gilles Lellouche), a man unable to accept the end of a relationship, and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), a man obsessed with his ex.
Canet has cited The Big Chill, a film about a group of baby boomers reunited by the suicide of a friend, as an inspiration. This is evident in a similar use of nostalgic songs by musicians like Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin and David Bowie.
But where The Big Chill heralded the ambivalent conformity of the activist Now Generation, Little White Lies does not strive to make any lasting social statements.
The film aimlessly attempts to include everything — comedy, drama, romance — in an effort to give the audience anything it might expect. Though an intriguing concept, the final product seems messy and overwrought rather than affecting.
As an indictment of no-longer-youthful urbanites, the film somewhat succeeds, but as a film, it has no sense of genre.
Little White Lies often focuses on silly and offensive comedy (Max’s homosexual rant) and overwrought melodrama. The film forgets the spectacular cast at its disposal, the actors capable of conveying more meaningful moments than the script allows.
Marie’s interaction with a sweet former flame, for example, allows us to briefly glimpse at the acutely observed story Little White Lies could be. To see an actress like Cotillard deliver such a nuanced performance in a film that never quite measures up to her talent is disheartening.
Additionally, the characters never inspire any sympathy in the audience. They are self-absorbed and out of touch from the moment they leave Ludo in the hospital until the final condemnation from a seemingly random oysterman. They laze about in clubs and yell at each other, all the while forgetting the importance of friends and family in their hedonistic pursuits.
Max’s homophobia seems extremely unrealistic and dated in today’s world. Similar to many other characters, he seems like a relic. Perhaps the purpose of this film is to expose the elder generation’s obsession with youth, the selfishness of 30- and 40-somethings, or something in between, but it seems insincere and half-hearted somehow. The actors’ considerable talents are wasted on a script that gives them one-dimensional and deplorable characters as material.
Finally, there is a barrier between audience and character that seems exacerbated by the soundtrack. During moving moments, a swelling, overwrought score or song will play as if to tell us: “This is where you tear up.” It is a strange feeling, and it takes away some of the enjoyment from the film.
The runtime is also a meandering 2 1/2 hours, a lot of which seems unnecessary. The audience has no interest in these characters by the end of the film. Unfortunately, they never like or connect with them, either.
Therefore, that oysterman’s final monologue against the attitudes of the protagonists seems redundant.
The audience has known these things all along.