Film Review: Little White Lies

Handsome package and French spin on the <i>Big Chill</i> concept that convenes a group of thirty- and early forty-something friends back to their regular summer vacation spot on a sunny coast visually diverts, but audiences may wish for better company.

Filmmaker Guillaume Canet, who scored so impressively with his art-house suspenser Tell No One, switches genres and gets even more ambitious and long (154 minutes) with Little White Lies. With razzle-dazzle cinematography and star power (Marion Cotillard, François Cluzet, Benoît Magimel, Gilles Lellouche and Jean Dujardin), a stunning seaside setting, a rockin’ score and brisk pacing to match the upbeat youngish professionals, the film has a lot going for it. But maybe not enough.

The considerable assets should pique early interest among the usual suspects for such film fare, but word of mouth conveying a gaggle of characters as superficial as they are fun-loving may dampen box office. Water, sun and lust reign as politics, serious talk, wit, fresh observations and convincing emotional moments hardly enter conversations or this picture. Even irony and surprises are left at home.

Canet does seed possibilities for heft in his story, but they get buried in the sand. What sets the story flying in the right direction is the pre-dawn, horrific motorcycle accident of playboy/bon vivant Ludo (Jean Dujardin), who, having spent his usual festive evening in a Paris disco, now lies near death in a hospital.

He’s part of a tight, lively group of friends who regularly spend their summer vacations together at a beach cottage in Arcachon by the water. They include uptight, short-fused restaurateur Max (Cluzet), who owns the house; gentle chiropractor Vincent (Magimel), who has some ambiguity about his marriage and sexuality; womanizing Eric (Lellouche); free-spirit Marie (Cotillard), and the sweet Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), not recovering well from being suddenly dumped by his girlfriend.

The gang, looking forward to their summer break together, is devastated by what has happened to Ludo, but, leaving him behind in the hospital, decide to continue with their vacation plans. They convene at the beach house, not forgetting to pack some of their problems. The gentle Vincent, it seems, has a huge crush on also-married Max. But Max is repulsed by Vincent’s feelings and can only snap, “Get some help!”

Ever-randy Eric is determined to get some action, but his regular squeeze leaves him too in the sand. Eric makes a play for good friend Marie, but her priorities are elsewhere with her anthropology work and other random partners. There are also kids in the mix and quirky lesser characters like Vincent’s wife Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot), who secretly fancies pornography. The brief appearance of Marie’s sad-eyed folk-singer friend Franck (Maxim Nucci), who provides a post-dinner concert on his guitar, adds no more than a mediocre musical interlude.

The only dark cloud that hovers over this otherwise lazy beach reunion is terrified Max’s cold treatment of Vincent and his fear that his housemates will discover Vincent’s feelings. And back in Paris, the possibility that Ludo won’t survive his accident also casts some grey.

Little White Lies does have some terrific set-pieces, beginning with Ludo’s shocking accident and, later, an almost comic and wholly innocent adventure that Max and Vincent have on the water. Bringing some life to all this is a soundtrack of hits from icons like Joplin, Bowie and Credence Clearwater Revival.

There’s a long, drawn-out ending that fails to pull real emotional strings, and only little white lies surface amongst this forgettable group. A big fat lie would have been most welcome here.