Guillaume Canet’s All-Star Disappointment: ‘Little White Lies’

Guillaume Canet has become something of a French Ben Affleck. For years he turned in rather dull screen performances and coasted off his boy next door good looks (remember he was in The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio? Exactly…), his most exciting achievement during the first years of his career might’ve been his marriage to Diane Kruger (and some people aren’t aware of this, either) but then in 2006, Canet surprised audiences by proving what he lacked as an actor, he more than made up for as a director.

In that year he directed Tell No One, a thriller that felt like a post-Hitchcockian homage inspired by Harrison Ford’s version of The Fugitive. The film’s far fetched plot includes people coming back from the dead, explosive chases and diabolical fathers, but Canet proved that he was as good at the action sequences as he was at the more intimate moments, and seemed particularly talented at getting brilliant performances from his actors. Tell No One for example, features a remarkable performance from François Cluzet, who in the movie recalls Dustin Hoffman as an action star, it also provided the great Kristin Scott Thomas with one of her best French language performances.

The movie’s success in France was stunning and Canet received several awards including the César for Best Director. The movie received praise Stateside as well, and Michael Caine even included it among his greatest films of all time. All of this basically means that critics and audiences were looking forward to what Canet would direct next and when he released Little White Lies expectations couldn’t have been higher. Sadly the film is a complete disappointment.

The first scene introduces us to Ludo (Jean Dujardin pre-The Artist) a charming party man who leaves a club after doing cocaine, drinking and kissing his friend’s girlfriend, as he gets on his scooter the camera follows him and we get the immediate notion that his fate can only go two ways: it will glorify his lifestyle or punish him for it. Seconds later we are assured of the latter as he is hit by a truck and ends in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

We see his friends get together in the hospital and soon enough protagonism is transferred to them as they wonder whether they should go on their traditional yearly vacation together or not. They decide he’ll be alright and go away to the beach, where the film takes the form of a The Big Chill-like exploration of people of a certain age. All of the friends have different lifestyles and problems, among them there is a confession from Vincent (Benoit Magimel) that has Max (Cluzet) reevaluate their friendship. There’s womanizer Eric (Gilles Lelouche) who cheats on his girlfriend and flirts with his friend Marie (Marion Cotillard) a troubled woman who uses sex and drugs as a way to escape her problems. There’s dimwitted Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) who doesn’t know how to keep secrets and Max’s wife Verónique (Valérie Bonneton) who acts as an observer to everything that goes on.

To say that nothing transcendental occurs would be an understatement, given that the film lacks a structure and consists of episodes in which we see these people interact with each other and come up with the title “little white lies” that makes their lives easier. The film doesn’t really lead anywhere and, to its detriment, relies too much on a plot twist that never feels important enough, since we never understand why is Ludo so important to this group. Why do they spend their time talking about him and watching his videos when they so easily disregarded him and abandoned him?

Canet is too smart a director to judge his characters, but he also lacks the wisdom to draw anything out of just shooting people with his camera an observing them. There is absolutely no insight in this movie, which chooses to fill its silences with overlong musical montages in which his camera tries hard to squeeze any emotion out of these people. By the movie’s end (and it’s quite long at over two hours and 30 minutes) we haven’t learned anything about these people and what’s worse, we don’t feel like we want to know them.

Little White Lies is presented in high definition and makes for a truly gorgeous Blu-ray edition, however like the film itself, the extras presented don’t amount to much at all. There’s a short making of featurette in which the cast and crew make the movie sound much more fascinating than it ever stood a chance of being. Rounding up the set is a trailer. After the promise Canet showed with his last film, perhaps hopes were too high when it came to the follow up, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the next one.

RATING 4 / 10