Introspective, authentic and marginally innovative, Guillaume Canet’s Little White Lies is one of the longest-running dramedy films in recent memory (154 minutes), and we thank Canet for his refusal to edit his film down to fit the impatient demands of mainstream viewership. What we get instead is a film where characters aren’t just explored; they are plundered. By the time Little White Lies comes to a close, you pretty much know each member of this group of friends to a tee, and are able to overlook the slightly overwrought and emotionally cantankerous conclusion. Dealing with a variety of themes that include relationships, death and human sexuality, Little White Lies may be one of the best kept secrets of 2012 despite being a box office hit in its home country of France two years ago.
Little White Lies begins its story amidst the hazy and claustrophobic confines of a French nightclub. Following one too many drinks, one character from the ensemble cast drives home on their motorcycle, only to be hit by an oncoming vehicle. The scene cuts to black, transitioning next to a group of individuals all huddled together in a hospital waiting area. They are all friends of this mystery individual who is in critical condition, and it’s in the scene following, where his friends look upon their gruesomely injured pal, that Canet makes clear as day how tight-knit this circle of friends is. The group find themselves in a bit of a quandary after departing from the hospital. Do they postpone their upcoming vacation in Cap Ferret, where one of them owns a vacation home, or do they continue as planned in spite of their dear friend’s recent ICU-dependent status? Such morally-driven questions like these really set the tone for the entire film — in many of the situations that the characters find themselves in, it’s hard not to ask yourself: “what would I do?” I believe Canet presents these morally-ambiguous dilemmas as a way to reflect on our own human nature, that we aren’t wholly perfect, righteous, or know what’s best — we make stupid, immoral, and horrific choices. However, instead of making amends for these choices or mistakes, or confronting our personal problems that lie beneath the surface, we simply gloss over them by putting a fake smile on our faces and going on with our lives as though nothing wrong occurred, hence the title “Little White Lies.”
So yes, the group of friends do indeed ditch their hospital-ridden buddy for greener pastures in France’s beautiful West Coast. Before you judge them, perhaps it’s best to let these flawed creations of Canet play out their sub-stories, which all intertwine and come to a head in the end, in this lake setting where the water seems calm but the ripples make their appearance every so often. The ensemble cast in Little White Lies is near perfection. Academy Award® winners Jean Dujuardin (The Artist) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) are the two recognizable members of the ensemble cast that American audiences will instantly recognize, but thankfully Canet doesn’t focus his plot entirely around the two Oscar heavyweights (Little White Lies was filmed before Dujardin became an international star). Part of why Little White Lies feels more a fully functional ensemble film, is simply because it is. Too many American films tend to demarcate themselves as “ensemble” works, but never allot their characters with equal screen time. Because of the lengthiness of Little White Lies, every single player in the story gets equal time to go through all the trials and tribulations that their subplot dictates, letting us walk away from the film completely knowledgeable and satisfied with each character’s fully fleshed-out film journey. François Cluzet (former star of Canet’s well-known Tell No One), Benoît Magimel(Children of the Century), Gilles Lellouche (Love Me If You Dare), and Pascale Arbillot (The Art of Love) are several members of the cast who actually surge past the performances of Cotillard and Dujardin — who themselves are nothing less than brilliant in Little White Lies.
Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin play Marie and Ludo, a dating couple who have an open relationship as long as their sexual partners aren’t selected from the inner circle of friends. Cotillard’s Marie is a wounded enigma of a character, erotically narcissistic and incredibly fragile underneath her shell of “sexually evolved new-age woman.” Marion does her fair share of seduction and crying in the film — probably something we’ve all become accustomed to seeing from the great French actress — but within the dramedy genre, it’s rather touching how she let’s those common film emotions affect the more realistic role she’s given here. Dujardin, meanwhile, gets a chance to extend his comedic sensibilities from The Artist in quite a few scenes in Little White Lies, proving he’s on his way to become the new Clark Gable with his gentlemanly charm and wit.
However, the strongest performances from Little White Lies come from François Cluzet and Benoît Magimel, two best friends who hit an awkward rough-patch after Magimel’s Vincent admits to a mid-life crisis that involves Cluzet’s Max: he is in love with him. The interactions between Vincent and Max go from incredibly funny to uncomfortably serious, and their subplot really drives the film and affects the entire group of friends — not to mention their own spouses and kids, who they bring along — that join them on the vacation in Cap Ferret. François Cluzet and Benoît Magimel are two truly gifted actors, and are without question the French versions of Hollywood’s Dustin Hoffman (Cluzet) and Jeremy Renner (Magimel). They so deserve a shot at international stardom, even though Dustin Hoffman and Jeremy Renner might want their faces back.
Gilles Lellouche, who actually was nominated for a “Best Supporting Actor” César Award (France’s version of the Academy Awards®) for his role as Eric in this movie, plays a jovial flirt who behaves like the wildest of Bachelors even though he has a loving girlfriend back home. Eric himself is in his upper thirties, but acts as though he’s a free-spirited horny teenager. As Little White Lies goes on, Eric finds that his inability to grow up and be serious distances him from not just his friends, but also the woman he truly and deeply loves. Eric’s role isn’t quite as meaty as those given to other members of the ensemble, but I believe the subtlety in emotion that Lellouche delivers in spades probably nabbed him that César nomination. Finally, Pascale Arbillot is genius as the ignored wife of the sexually-confused Vincent. Her scenes are heart-breaking to watch, yet her strength is what makes her one of the more likable characters in a roster full of flawed — and arguably detestable — individuals.
With Little White Lies, Guillaume Canet evolves our expectations of the dramedy genre. Instead of a whistle, we get the entire speech. I realize that I’m in the minority of critics who found this film completely endearing and engrossing, but the length of a movie has never bothered me. What matters is the time spent during those long hours that can either make or break a film. To me, the extra time allocated into building characters and fully elongating their sub-narratives made for a more engaging, realistic experience at the movies — and I was not at all expecting that to be the case from the “hit-and-run” dramedy genre of film-making. Aside from one uninteresting subplot surrounding a character named Antoine, and a curiously toned conclusion, Little White Lies is a pleasant surprise. Don’t let those 154 minutes scare you away from thoroughly sinking into the incredible depths of film characterization that Guillaume Canet has to offer. And no, this review is not a “Little White Lie.” The truth of the matter is that dramedies rarely dive this far down into the crux of human complexity. In that respect, Little White Lies might just be the start of a revolution.
MPI Pictures’ Little White Lies opens this weekend (August 24th-26th) in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York City. The film will have a national roll-out all throughout September, so I implore you to check this out, even if all you want is to check off another movie from Marion Cotillard’s filmography. I promise you, Little White Lies is definitely worth your two-and-a-half hours at the cinema.
Tags: Cinema of France, François Cluzet, French Cinema, jean dujardin, Marion Cotillard
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