Little White Lies (2011)
Director: Guillaume Canet
Cast: Francois Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Benoit Magimel
My Rating: ★★★1/2 (Three and a half stars out of five, or 7/10)
In Short: An overlong and flawed but decent comedy; interesting but unexceptional
Little White Lies, the latest in a long line of interesting but often unexceptional French comedies, is exactly that: interesting but unexceptional. Although certainly it raises the bar among some of the other recent fare, and is undeniably more watchable than its American equivalents, Little White Lies is far from perfect.
However, in the areas it does succeed, it soars. The ensemble cast of popular French actors including Francois Cluzet (Tell No One (2006)), Benoit Magimel (The Piano Teacher (2001)), Jean Dujardin (The Artist, 2011)) and Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose, 2007)), all give fantastic performances, and the well-written dialogue delivers numerous sincerely comedic and funny moments. However, after two and a half hours, the plot wears thin and the emotional turmoil that develops involving tragedy and sexual tension becomes too pressing and tiresome. If the film were half an hour – or even an hour – shorter, this would be a much more attractive and enjoyable comedy, but its lagging pace becomes annoying and will leave most viewers – even ardent French comedy fans – restless.
Or perhaps I’m complaining too much. The film is honestly very enjoyable and funny. The actors are superb and never over-the-top, and the screenplay is so well-written that the generally slow pace seems to flow quicker thanks to the guidance of Canet’s easing direction and the ability of the actors, particularly Cluzet and Magimel, who have between them a terrific tension apparent in all of the scenes following Magimel’s admission of sexual longings for Cluzet (“I’m not a queer!”)
I feel obliged to say aloud the thought that drifted through my mind throughout the duration of the film: what is it that makes these comedies so superior to American ones, which in terms of plot, style and acting are inarguably similar? I think it is the writing. The way these characters interact is so similar but so different. The dialogue, though, is the key. The American accents which colour the Hollywood comedies are dialects I admittedly find annoying. My somewhat biased attitude toward foreign films, in this case comedies, is what attracts me to them so much, I think. They have such an originality, such a flavour of reality that seems absent from many of the American “equivalents,” which seem tiresome and idiotic. Few comedies, American or otherwise, have had in recent years such a well-chosen and interactive ensemble cast.
Little White Lies, despite the flaws I spoke of earlier, is a genuinely funny movie. It is well-written and the brilliant dialogue is brought to vivid life by an impressive cast. It’s always nice to see Marion Cotillard in a film that’s not American, and it was a surprise to see Benoit Magimel in a comedy (the last film I saw him in, Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, was certainly not funny). Overall, an overlong and flawed but decent comedy. Easily one of the best comedies of 2011. I give it 7/10.