Don’t get too excited about Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin’s name appearing in the credits for Little White Lies—his part is nearly as silent as the role for which he won his Oscar, last year’s much-lauded The Artist. Writer-director Guillaume Canet’s 154-minute French drama was filmed before that black-and-white novelty, and here Dujardin plays Ludo, a party boy who’s involved in a near-fatal accident in the opening scene and spends the rest of the film banged up in a hospital bed. No statues this time around.
Instead, Little White Lies focuses on his friends, who, Big Chill-style, go on their annual vacation after the accident, though they briefly wring their hands about it. Occasionally they think about Ludo, but mostly they feast, drink, laugh, and enjoy the beach. They all have their own issues to deal with, however. Marie (Marion Cotillard), Ludo’s ex, makes herself sexually available to men (and women), but remains emotionally distant. Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) has texting anxiety related to a former flame. Eric (Gilles Lellouche) can’t hang on to a girlfriend, either. Max (François Cluzet), the well-off owner of the vacation home, is a hothead who can’t relax. And Vince (Benoît Magimel), a straight, married man with a child, thinks he’s in love with Max, his kid’s godfather.
Some are unknown to others, adding question marks to odd, tense, or perhaps too-friendly interactions. Some characters might keep things to themselves, but for the most part these people talk—and talk and talk and talk, until you wonder whether Canet’s editor quit on him in postproduction. This is not an epic tale; it’s not a movie that needed to be more than two-and-a-half hours long. Visually, though, it’s a virtual retreat, between the copious wine and food and glorious views of sand and water. Even if the dialogue occasionally plods, its beauty has a warm, lulling effect.
And there is one benefit to spending so much time with these characters: You may not feel like they’re your friends, but when they ache, you feel their pain, and near the film’s end, that pain is devastating. Cotillard and Cluzet especially stand out; though Cluzet has the showier role, getting to bang about and yell a lot, Cotillard’s Marie is the heart of the story, being the closest to Ludo and eventually breaking down (real tears, bravo!) when wine and pot can’t keep her together anymore. (Something else happens to tear down a wall, too, but that’s better left unrevealed.) Again, though, the coda lingers a bit too long; you go from sympathizing with them to wishing their time together would just end already. Less chatting and crying, please. It’d take some subtraction to make Little White Lies a solid plus.