Little White Lies goes a long way – at 154 minutes, an incredibly long way – for so very little. At its most fundamental level, it’s about a group of people who come to realize at the most appropriate time that they’re more concerned about themselves than they are about others, specifically their mutual friend, who lies in a hospital bed in critical condition. But this discovery isn’t made until the final five minutes. Before then, all the lead characters are embroiled in incidental relationship odysseys, all of which are examined at such a distance that it’s virtually impossible to become emotionally invested. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves aren’t that well developed; they’re given plenty of dialogue and situations to work their way through, but never once does it seem as if we’re getting to know them.
Kick starting the plot is a man named Ludo (Jean Dujardin), who exits a nightclub in Paris high on cocaine, drives away on his motorcycle, and is soon thereafter rammed by a truck. His friends soon hear about it and pay him a visit in the hospital, where of course they do and say the appropriate things. The visit ends, and although it’s obvious that Ludo is fighting for his life, the friends decide that they should stick to their normal routine and take their annual two-week lakeside summer vacation. It isn’t until the final act that they all watch one of their home movies, staring at Ludo and his larger-than-life antics nostalgically; that, coupled with a very predictable turn of events, finally awakens the friends to the fact that they aren’t the most thoughtful of people and made a huge mistake going on this vacation.
These opening and closing segments are every bit as routine as they sound, but we can still give writer/director Guillaume Canet credit for having his heart in the right place. Unfortunately, both segments are separated by a long, meandering middle section devoted to subplots involving the personal lives of the friends. Apart from the fact that almost none of their stories have anything to do with the character of Ludo, most of them are coldly developed and disappointingly resolved. A vast majority of the relationship drama happens at the vacation home of Max (François Cluzet), a wealthy restaurateur so uptight and controlling that it’s a wonder anyone would stay friends with him, let alone go on vacation with him annually. And don’t get me started on the fact that his wife, Véro (Valérie Bonneton), can actually put up with him.
One of the subplots begins when Max’s friend and personal chiropractor, Vincent (Benoît Magimel), admits to Max that his feelings for him have grown into a physical attraction. Vincent is aware that Max doesn’t feel the same way, is apparently content with being only his friend, and remains tactful during the vacation. Max, on the other hand, becomes even more of a nervous wreck and is driven to extremes that are initially amusing but eventually become cruel. At the heart of the matter, of course, is that Vincent, a husband and father, is in denial about his homosexuality and had clearly not taken Max’s mental state into consideration when deciding to join him at his summer home – with his wife and children. It’s a compelling idea, but the way this movie handles it, it’s one of many subplots that doesn’t get off to a great start and isn’t allowed to go anywhere.
We meet an actor named Eric (Gilles Lellouche) and a young man named Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), both struggling in the romance department. The former is in a loudmouth and is well aware that he hasn’t been able to commit and can’t start now. Why then does he get so upset when his relationship with an opera singer named Lea (Louise Monot) suddenly ends? The latter is fixated on a mostly unseen woman named Juliette (Anne Marivin), who, despite her eleven-year relationship with Antoine, is engaged to another man. Antoine hangs on every text she sends him and is so annoyingly one-tracked that he has to tell everyone about them at all times. The biggest enigma is Marie (Marion Cotillard), whose dating dramas are so faintly alluded to that their inclusions are baffling. It’s strongly suggested that she was an item with Ludo, yet she’s briefly joined at the summer house by a handsome musician. And what are we to make of an early scene during Antoine’s birthday party, where a woman enters the restaurant, has a few tense words with Marie, and then exits both the restaurant and the film?
The film, released in its native France in late 2010 but only now reaching American audiences, has been billed in part as a comedy. I’m not exactly sure why; there are one or two obviously funny sight gags, but on the whole, the lighter moments are so subtle and low key that they’re likely to go completely over the heads of the audience. Of course, labeling it purely as a drama wouldn’t have saved it from being slow and unrewarding. Little White Lies is well intentioned but terribly unsure of itself, spending far too much time on secondary vignettes and not enough time on the main story. Before the final act and the obligatory emotional resolution, there came a point at which I began to wonder why the Dujardin character was introduced at all. He was barely brought up during the two-hour middle section, which suggests the filmmakers were just as unmindful of him as his friends.
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