It's taken a couple of years - and a couple of Academy Awards for two of the actors in its busy ensemble cast - for Little White Lies to find its way to American art houses. Premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, this third feature from actor/director Guillaume Canet, the man behind the taut French thriller Tell No One, opens with a jolt.
But the tragic Vespa crash that starts things off (an impressive sustained tracking shot through the late-night streets of Paris) becomes the pivot point for an emotionally messy dramedy in which a clique of middle-aged friends repair to a beach resort and ruminate about life, death, relationships, sex. Long and rambling, and deploying a playlist of vintage American rock (Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Band, the Isley Brothers) that can't help but evoke the similarly retro music cues - and sentiments - of The Big Chill, Canet's film becomes progressively more wearying.
Marion Cotillard, the La Vie en Rose Oscar winner, is Marie, sultry and sad, walking around the communal summer rental in PJs, smoking pot. Jean Dujardin, Oscar winner from The Artist, is Ludo, the hard-partying guy on the motor scooter who spends the better part of Little White Lies in a hospital bed. Tell No One's François Cluzet is a restless restaurateur who can't leave his work behind - and who gets creeped out when his longtime buddy, the chiropractor Vincent (Benoît Magimel), confesses his attraction to him. No, his love. And both are married, with wives in tow.
Boat trips and barbecues, the comings and goings of friends and strangers, the suspense about Ludo's fate, the smashing of wine glasses, the screaming of angry spouses - Little White Lies wants to capture something momentous and meaningful in these people's lives. But ultimately it's hard to care.