Written and directed by Michael Maren, when a handyman living in New York City is mistaken for a famous and famously reclusive writer, he’s brought to a university where he is to deliver a keynote address to save the school’s literary festival. Starring: Michael Shannon, Kate Hudson, Don Johnson, Zach Braff, Wendie Malick, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Jimmi Simpson, Perry Mattfeld, Peyton List, M. Emmet Walsh, Adhir Kalyan, Aja Naomi King and Romy Byrne.
The first impression A Little White Lie gives, purely from aesthetic alone is that you’re about to embark on some sort of Hallmark or Lifetime romance flick. It’s not ideal and sets a fairly dull tone which colours the story poorly when it actually has more to offer. The way that the story moves lacks confidence but if told in the right way, it could have had a much larger sense of humour and wit. One of the things it does attempt to grasp onto is the psychological element of the story but the cliched and stereotypical style simply can’t manage it. Similar to the way that in certain moments it attempts to be outwardly silly then changes, seemingly unable to make up its mind about what it wants to be.
It’s a major problem all throughout the film because the story foundation is there but Michael Maren’s style misses the mark entirely. The plot is calling out to be explored with a Claude Chabrol interpretation, a big energy and intensity mixed with playfulness and wit but that’s not what we get. There are also a few errant moments which feel entirely unnecessary and slow down A Little White Lie, when what it really needs is to speed up. Interestingly though, in a few specific locations and moments where it’s trying to play around with intensity and psychology, there is a marked improvement in the cinematography and texture of the visual. If only it could hold onto that quality throughout, it would make a massive difference.
Especially because A Little White Lie is working with such a great group of actors and it doesn’t make the most of them. This outing feels akin to Michael Shannon’s role in Pottersville, in that it’s a strange addition to his filmography but he still gives a solid performance and has a good time with it. As do most of the cast, particularly Don Johnson, Jimmi Simpson and Zach Braff. Aja Naomi King’s role hints at something larger and more mysterious which she never truly gets to fulfil though it’s fun to watch. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is probably the most effective and strong presence in the film, her air of confidence and friendliness elevates the tone of the film the second that she appears on screen. Perhaps the one unexpected help is found with Romy Byrne, she brings a bluntness and apathy yet hospitable quality to her character and she has a great camaraderie with Shannon’s Shriver. Kate Hudson is definitely a worthwhile presence here but the film’s really not asking much of her and it can easily be filed away under her many romcom type roles.
A Little White Lie’s concept and cast had a good deal of potential but the style, pacing and visual quality can’t live up to that. It struggles to hold your attention because it can’t seem to decide what it wants to be, whether it should go down the mystery route or be a calamitous film of hijinks. The cast do their best to uplift the film but without a consistent energy or captivating pacing, the end result is disappointing. Especially compared to what it could have been with a stronger, more confident hand at the wheel.