Many of us are envious of the French habit of taking five week long vacations. Fortunately, Guillaume Canet’s “Little White Lies,” will not only make you grateful of your two-week express holiday, it will give you a new appreciation the American glut of Chevy Chase inspired vacation-themed movies. It’s no wonder French vacations are so long — Canet’s myopic characters have so many issues that they move through everything at a clumsy, elephantine pace. Each one of these people would need an entire year of vacation, nay, full-time therapy just to summon the courage to screw in a lightbulb.
The directionless doldrums of angst and malaise that the film’s plural protagonists find themselves in is only exceeded in its pointlessness by the film’s static and utterly dysfunctional screenplay. A character’s plot line will surface, get mulled over and then submerge for a time while someone else’s story is brought to the fore. Later, the earlier plot will resurface and the whole dreadful cycle continues as if Canet’s plotlines are engaged in a cinematic game of Whac-a-Mole.
Each one of the half-dozen protagonists seems to exist on a separate timeline. When it’s their turn for the limelight, they run, dance, kick, scream and cry, and when the film moves on, they return to normal, as if their struggles have been temporarily suspended.
“Little White Lies” gives the viewer an excruciatingly close look at the beach vacation of a group of friends who decide to follow through with their annual Bordeaux vacation in spite of the fact that their friend, Luna, is recovering in the ICU from a coke-fueled collision with a truck. The accident and its immediate aftermath — when the friends make the curious decision to continue with their holiday plans — is the only part of the film to hold one’s interest and attention. What an audacious decision it is to open a film with such captivatingly insensitive characters.
Jean Dujardin taps into the boyish charisma that won him an Oscar for “The Artist,” in his performance of a hilarious, coke-snorting vagabond. But all too soon he is shut up in a hospital and the action moves from Parisian nightclubs to the sedate coast of Brittany, where Canet’s direction takes a very long siesta.
What little depth this film might have can be gleaned from its title. “Little White Lies” attempts to explore the small lies that friends tell to one another in order to smooth out their relationships. Unfortunately, this theme runs thinner than an over-beaten macaroon, and it is left to the film’s conscience, a bucolic oyster farmer named Jean-Luis, to articulate it in a semi-sermon at the film’s climax. It’s almost too much when Jean-Luis tries to dig deep with his epiphany that the characters lie to themselves as much as they lie to each other.
Though Canet’s improvisatorial directing and visual style may self-consciously evoke the French New Wave, Godard this film is not. Those looking for subtext will be sorely disappointed. The “Little White Lies” that take Jean-Luis an entire vacation to unravel, were distilled by Jean-Luc in a mere “Weekend.”
“Little White Lies” was made after the cast, many of whom are friends in real life, took a vacation-cum-workshop to develop their characters. Canet then crafted the film from hours of resulting footage. The resulting produce, sadly, feels every bit as spontaneous and misguided as its method of production.
This messy style of cinema lacks the sprezzatura of the French New Wave cinema its painfully anachronistic “classic-hits” soundtrack seeks to evoke. Next time you go on vacation, Mr. Canet, we’d appreciate it if you left the film crew at home.