The difference between friends and lovers is usually penetration, but even that isn’t a hard line distinction. Intimacy goes beyond sex, especially when it comes to the closest of friends, but no matter how open people are with each other there are always truths they keep hidden. Truths, and lies.
Ludo (Jean Dujardin) makes his rounds through a packed bar, drinking, snorting and leering along the way, before heading outside at the first hint of dawn. He hops onto his scooter and heads home through the quiet streets of Paris.
And is promptly slammed into by a large truck.
Max (Francois Cluzet) and his wife Veronique (Valerie Bonneton), Vincent (Benoit Magimel) and his wife Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot), Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), Marie (Marion Cotillard) and Eric (Gilles Lellouche) all had vacation plans that included Ludo, but they decide it would be best if they went on without him instead of hanging around his hospital bed. The group of friends head to Max’s beach-side villa in the South of France for good times and fun in the sun, but soon the lies they’ve been telling themselves and each other come pouring out as freely as the wine.
Max is the wealthiest of the bunch, evident in his serving as host on their annual month-long vacations, but he’s beginning to feel unappreciated by the others. He takes his frustration out on the villa’s imperfections including an unkempt lawn and a suspected influx of weasels in the walls. Vincent is a happy family man, but shortly before the trip he approaches Max to reveal that he’s in love with him. He assures Max he’s not gay, but the attraction is there nonetheless. Antoine spends the entire trip pining for love lost, a woman named Juliette who’s engaged to marry someone else, and promising that he’ll win her back.
Marie dedicates much of life to travel and volunteering to help those less fortunate, but when it comes to love she’s more interested in the passion than she is in the morning after. The only commitment she feels comfortable making is to an unchained future. Eric is a minor actor and major playboy whose constant partying was an unspoken challenge for Ludo to keep up with him. He’s slowly coming to realize that his feelings for his current girlfriend go beyond lust all the way to love, but it may be too late.
Writer/director Guillaume Canet’s latest film is an ensemble character piece that walks a fine line between comedy and drama. It leans a bit more successfully towards the laughs if only because most of the dramatic beats have a familiar or low-key feeling to them, but on the whole it works as an immersive experience dropping viewers directly into this hot and cold group of friends. Their relationships, both within and outside of the group, are no more or less complicated than anyone else experiences, but their joys, pains and confusions are magnified in tight quarters.
While the individual dramas fail at originality they still manage to engage thanks to the fantastic work of the cast. Cluzet (The Intouchables) is a strong actor who dedicates much of his effort here to comedy, but he allows glimpses of the pained man beneath the generosity and erratic behavior. Lellouche (Point Blank) is quite believable as the soulless ladies man who discovers his capacity for love possibly at the price of losing it. Cotillard (Taxi 3) has rarely been this charming and fragile, and she makes it easy to see why men fall for Marie and then find it difficult to let go.
The rest of the cast is equally good at conveying the good times and the bad, and Canet ensures they all look wonderful as well. The film is beautiful, aided in part by its location on the shores of southern France, but also due to the way the camera embraces the group like it’s one of the gang. Viewers feel like guests at the dinner table and on deck during their boating trips, and Canet manages a stellar opening tracking shot that follows Ludo for several seamless minutes right up to the point of impact.
The comedic bits are often funny and the dramatic threads are passably obvious, but the film’s only real hurdle is its length. At two and a half hours the movie is clearly too long for a tale as lacking in profundity as this, but to the credit of Canet and his cast it never feels slow or boring. It doesn’t justify the length, but it rarely wastes it either.
Little White Lies is essentially the offspring of The Big Chill and Peter’s Friends, but that’s far from a bad thing. It updates but rarely strays beyond those films’ use of older pop songs, ensemble structures and one-two punches of laughs and emotion, and while there are no surprises to be found here it remains an enjoyable, entertaining and occasionally affecting vacation with friends.
The Upside: Fantastic acting across the board; most characters have depth and honesty about them; beautiful looking film
The Downside: Overlong; the Vincent/Max storyline is a bit suspect without more backstory
On the Side: Canet is currently in post-production on his American debut, Blood Ties
Little White Lies is currently playing in limited release