Canet's "Little White Lies" an Exercise in Hubris

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 6, 2012

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Marion Cotillard and Francois Cluzet in "Little White Lies."

Films by thespians don’t tend to be like 2006’s Tell No One, a goosebumpy French thriller directed by the actor Guillaume Canet (Joyeux Noël, Farewell). Typically, they err towards the new Little White Lies, a sprawling actor’s showcase that is the second film by Canet. Of course, Canet probably couldn’t have made Lies—which drags itself over the 2-½ hour mark, despite having nothing particularly new to add to the genre of Big Chill ripoffs—unless Tell No One hadn’t been a monster American art house hit. Best to classify it as a bloated follow-up to a sleeper, boasting all the marks of a filmmaker whose ego rages after being told too many times what a genius he is.

Canet thinks big and small—big in that he’s summoned three of the most familiar (to America) faces in current French cinema: Jean Dujardin (his first release after his The Artist Oscar, though it was made before this), François Cluzet (of the semi-noxious crowd-pleaser The Intouchables) and Marion Cotillard, who, in real life, is Mrs. Canet. Her husband thinks small in that his script is rarely more than generic, and, at worst, risible. There’s a killer opening long take, trailing Dujardin as he bops about a swinging club, leaves into the Parisian dawn and, after blowing through too many red lights on his scooter, is plastered by a truck. As his aging friends reunite in Dujardin’s honor—while he spends the film holed up, disfigured, in a hospital—Canet burns through a hefty music licensing budget. Familiar American hits dot the funny-sad-overwrought proceedings, and Canet is even ballsy enough to program “The Weight.” If you’re gonna steal from The Big Chill, fucking own it.

Because she’s incapable of a performance that isn’t deeply felt, Cotillard works in some heavy moments, but, like the rest of the female cast, she’s a pissy killjoy while the boys are goofy, prickish man-children. They work through some romantic and maturity issues, while Cluzet scores an entire subplot involving gay panic jokes, naturally leading to a groaning lesson on tolerance. A follow-up to a hit tends to reveal more about a filmmaker than the hit, and the endless, banal Lies reveals pure, unearned hubris.

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