American viewers looking to see Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) speak his native tongue in an import French title are going to feel cheated. Little White Lies (French, in English subtitles) opens with Dujardin in the wee morning hours of a hip nightclub carrying on like a playboy-prick-a**hole all the way through his exit (the tracking shot is the most planned “artistic” effort of Guillaume Canet’s film). Hopping on his motorcycle, we follow him from behind, all the way guessing – if you’ve seen the cliché often enough –that the night’s not going to end well for him. He lands in the hospital. His friends visit him, see he’s fine and needs a month to recover, then go on their annual vacation leaving him behind. Sickness sucks.
For just a few moments we think we’re up for a modern update of the treasured 1960 film “L’Avventura,” which was about a bourgeoisie pact whom on vacation experience a vanished friend who never returns – they go back home and forget about her. The shallow ennui of bourgeoisie was the film’s point. Then we get all these melodramatic threads, and we think, hey, we’ve stumbled onto a French update of the 1983 American film “The Big Chill.”
What “Little White Lies” results ultimately in similarity is Adam Sandler’s “Grown-Ups” but with a slightly higher I.Q. The banality of the story is shocking the more I’ve thought about it in the weeks since seeing it, and I’ve mulled over the sheer arrogance of the writer-director Canet. He’s self-satisfied with an unshaped, unchallenging, 154 minute trifle that only pretends it’s something when they cut back to Dujardin once or twice an hour.
The actors were able to amuse me momentarily. Francois Cluzet could be France’s answer to Dustin Hoffman, he’s the host of the vacation time-share, befuddled in a subplot when a married male friend divulges he has a crush on him, inspiring homophobia. Marion Cotillard (the Oscar-winning star of “La Vie en Rose” and a player in multiple Christopher Nolan movies) is the slut who beds various partners, behaving like a carefree male bachelor – and was once bedmates with Dujardin’s character.
This was a big hit in France, possibly because audiences loved star-spotting the additional cast just as much: Benoit Magimel, Gilles Lellouche, Laurent Lafitte, Valerie Bonneton, Pascale Arbillot. Each one of them worth little more than a trait. Goofing around, pseudo-intellectual pondering, romantic misadventures, a boating mishap or two, as well as the gang watch old home movies of themselves. This is vanity like an Adam Sandler production, only let’s not kid ourselves – more stuffy.
154 Minutes. Unrated. French in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / SCENIC LOCALES / BAD MOVIES WE HATE
Film Cousins: “L’Avventura” (1960, France); “The Big Chill” (1983); “Summer Hours” (2008, France); “Grown Ups” (2010).