Two days ago (i.e., Friday, 9.17) Vanity Fair‘s “Little Gold Men” columnist John Lopez posted a glowing review of Guillame Canet‘s Little White Lies, which he saw at the Toronto Film Festival. I saw it there also — my last TIFF screening — and couldn’t have felt more differently.
Little White Lies begins with a 30something party animal (Jean Dujardin) leaving a night club at dawn and getting slammed by a truck as he’s heading home on his scooter. Hands down, this is the most absorbing sequence in the film; no subsequent portion put the hook in like it.
But before long Canet’s ensemble cast leaves Paris for a vacation home in southwestern coastal France (the shooting location was Lege-Cap-Ferret, near Bourdeaux), and the film devolves into a kind of French Big Chill. But not really because there isn’t any generational looking-back and summing-up thing going on. It’s mainly a piece about middle-class drift and nothingness among 30- and 40-something Paris urbans. It meanders and meanders and then meanders a bit more. It lasts for 160 minutes, give or take — way too long.
This is a stock beef, but there’s so much smoking going on in Little White Lies that I began to feel a vague aching sensation in my lungs. It began to seriously anger me. I began asking myself if anyone in this film outside of the small children was capable of getting through a scene without lighting up. Yes, one or two characters didn’t smoke but otherwise it was a cancer marathon.
I was a bit confused by the allegiances of Marion Cotillard‘s character, who is apparently commitment-phobic. She appears at first to be the significant other of the banged-up scooter-crash guy, but then she announces at the end that she’s pregnant, but not necessarily, I gathered, by Dujardin. Could the father be the other 30-something, not-very-tall member of the group, a guy with a 14-day beard growth (Gilles Lellouche) with whom Cotillard is shown hanging with in a bedroom during the vacation portion? I lost the thread. Maybe because I dozed off for a bit.
I know that the cloying fellow (Laurent Lafitte) who wouldn’t stop discussing an ex-girlfriend named Juliette possibly being interested in getting back together was hugely annoying. I wanted him to drown in a boating accident. And I certainly found it tedious that an older-guy character played by Francois Cluzet (the Dustin Hoffman-resembling actor who starred in Canet’s Tell No One) was constantly angered about minor stuff all the time. Resolve it or lose it.
Lopez, on the other hand, calls Little White Lies “a Gallic gem, and not just because you get to watch the immaculate Marion pout with a full glass of burgundy. [The film] could make for a boringly bourgeois exercise in self-congratulation if the opening scenes didn’t set the tone for just exactly what type of people these ‘friends’ are. It’s a complexly textured mix of farce and drama that generates from the care and delight Canet takes in measuring his characters’ massive imperfections.
“There are laughs, there is wine — believe us, there is wine — and there is an endless French summer of sexual confusion, narcissistic tomfoolery, and the sentimental celebration of friendships which flicker between noble motives and base needs, like an old light bulb in a dusty laundry room that somehow lasts for decades.
“Granted, the film can linger a little too long on certain scenes and beats, but when the summer is as lazy as it is in France, that is to be expected. The emotions and laughs are there, and at the end you feel as if you’ve escaped to a desert island with real friends–annoying, entertaining, self-absorbed, and sweet-when-they-can-swing-it friends. And isn’t that why we usually go to the movies?”