Needy friends need a vacation
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, September 7, 2012
The French film “Little White Lies” boasts a breathtaking opening sequence. Following a shaky, buzzy and colorfully lit scene inside a club, the camera swoops and swivels around Ludo (Jean Dujardin) as he takes an ill-fated sunrise scooter ride.
The camera angles and mood shifts reveal Guillaume Canet’s immense talents as a director.
Unfortunately, the subsequent 150-odd minutes also expose his shortcomings as a screenwriter.
The epic ensemble drama follows a group of Parisian friends. They spend a month together each summer, taking in the sun and saltwater at an idyllic seaside town, bunking in a house owned by the unofficial group elder, Max (François Cluzet). But this year, things are a little different. After that near-fatal accident lands Ludo in the hospital just on the cusp of the annual trip, the group finds itself at a crossroads.
Only one of them, Marie (Marion Cotillard), thinks the clan should stick around Paris. This is the first indication of the characters’ mind-boggling selfishness. After an affecting scene in which the friends appear emotionally felled by Ludo’s swollen, incapacitated state, they still can’t fathom missing their holiday. They won’t be able to do anything for him while he’s in the ICU, they reason, and so they arrive at a compromise: Instead of the usual month at the shore, they will go for two weeks.
Away they go, leaving Ludo to recover.
The sudden and terrible impact of that initial collision, as well as Ludo’s mangled appearance, seem to indicate that the accident is an important plot point. Once the group ditches one of their own, he should somehow haunt the vacation. Confoundingly, this is hardly the case. Instead, the characters go about their eating, wine-guzzling, boating, water-skiing and more wine-drinking, only pausing to think of Ludo on rare occasions.
One of the main threads revolves around Vincent (Benoît Magimel), a married father who finds himself falling in love with Max. But admitting his feelings just before the trip casts a cloud of awkwardness on the fun.
Another story centers on the self-obsessed Antoine (Laurent Lafitte), who insists on redirecting every conversation back to his own relationship tribulations. This is no doubt a familiar persona and one that everyone avoids at all costs, making it all the more frustrating that such a character will be on screen for the better part of 21
2 hours. It would be wrong to give it away, but let’s just say that his fate is utterly disheartening.
Much of the screen time is shared by Marie and Eric (Gilles Lellouche). The two terrific actors do their best with the material. Eric is a lifelong womanizer and Marie is his emotionally stunted female counterpart. While some of the other subplots verge on farcical, with acting to match, Cotillard and Lellouche add real emotion to the drama. They are both selfish in their own ways, but their flaws feel human and believable. As the movie wears on, however, the melodrama amps up to a final scene capable of draining any remaining pathos.
Amazingly, the lengthy run time doesn’t feel like a major failing. As maddening as the script can be, the film’s slow unfolding feels, appropriately, like a lazy summer day. There is space to show the not-particularly-important but still special moments among friends, including a bittersweet scene in which the group watches old home videos, featuring Ludo. Of course, by that point the audience might be wondering: Who’s that guy?
Contains brief nudity, drug use, obscenity, brief violence and smoking. In French with Enlish subtitles.