Americans love Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin…but does anyone love them enough to spend almost three hours reading subtitles? Little White Lies, arriving in U.S. theaters on August 24, will be the test.
Directed by Cotillard’s husband Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) this ensemble dramedy follows a horde of celebrated French actors playing a group of thirtysomething friends vacationing together at the idyllic French seaside town, Cap Ferret.
In the tradition of The Big Chill and Indian Summer (‘member that?), these friends are forced together to deal with their varied personalities and proclivities, and they end up clashing, making discoveries, and revealing things that they meant to keep secret. However, Little White Lies is ultimately more reminiscent of St. Elmo’s Fire, where too much of a good thing plays out as over-the-top and unfocused, even if it is backlit by beautiful scenery.
The soundtrack is a mirror of the distracted audaciousness that defines the film. While good looking French people road trip, water ski, and drink wine, we are treated to long, loud overtures of 1960’s Americana music. What begins at first, with Creedence and Janis Joplin, as a charming feeling of nostalgia morphs, with the Isely Brothers and David Bowie, into confusion. Caught up in the unfamiliar language and landscape, we begin to wonder: Am I missing something? Is this film supposed to take place in 1960’s America? We are jarred into the 21st century again when Damien Rice’s vocals later narrate what we are supposed to feel.
The actors are all recognizable and inarguably skilled, but this film is less of a plot-driven story and more of a character study. Cotillard plays Marie, a barefaced hippie traveler who chooses casual sex over the obvious perfect man who is right beside her. Then there’s Max (Francois Cluzet), the uptight rich hotelier who owns the vacation house and treats his friends abominably, though they inexplicably laugh it off. Among the other characters is Antoine, a guy who is annoyingly obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, and three people with marriage problems: a cheating, womanizing B-list actor, a husband who is in love with his best male friend, and a wife whose closet kinks are ignored by her man. Outside of the already large core group of friends, there are at least four other characters who show up in meaty supporting roles to confuse us and add to the runtime. If you’re wondering where Dujardin fits into all this, he doesn’t.
Dujardin plays Ludo, a party guy who gets into an accident at the beginning of the movie and spends maybe a total of five minutes onscreen. His dramatic mishap opens the film with a bang, but when his friends all but forget about him to go off together on holiday, so do we. All we know of Ludo (other than many tearful asides that interrupt the summer fun) comes from a home video of him dressed in drag and singing. We know the party we’re at is going on too long when everyone is sitting around on couches drinking beer and someone pops in the old home videos. Though Ludo’s accident is the film’s main event, this would have been the same movie without it.
What Little White Lies does well is capture a charming, nostalgic feeling. The great cast and a beautiful scenery paint a picture, but watching each stroke gets tedious, and the result is a little abstract.