(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz)
Fresh off the press after Glass Onion, Kate Hudson stars in the literary hoax of A Little White Lie, an adaptation of the novel Shriver. While this film brands itself as a comedy, it is framed more like a drama in terms of tone and subject matter. Some of the humor was assuredly funny when it managed to land, but the otherwise awkward punches might not be for everyone. A simple tale about self-discovery with an occasional laugh makes for a mildly amusing film.
We open on an eclectic cast of characters, including horse-riding Dr. Wasserman (Don Johnson), about to give up on the 93rd iteration of their university’s literary festival. That isn’t until Professor Simone Cleary (Kate Hudson) swoops in to save it with promises of renowned C. R. Shriver’s attendance, a one-hit wonder known for his blasphemous, erotic novel: Goat Time. Cut to an unlikely protagonist of the same name (Michael Shannon), a down-and-out alcoholic forced into attending the event. Throughout the film, Simone is stuck dragging Shriver through the mud in what turns out to be a disastrous, yet eye-opening festival. A Little White Lie clearly has a taste for spunky and exuberant characters who give the festival a standout personality, such as Delta (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a literary superfan of Shriver’s. We even get a surprise appearance from Zach Braff further down the line in a shocking turn of events.
Despite the cast’s familiarity, the acting was shockingly hit or miss. I was surprised how cheesy the performances were at times given the caliber of these actors’ portfolios. Perhaps this is at the fault of mediocre writing, or because this is Michael Maren’s sophomore work as a director. Maybe both factors are at play. Not to mention, there were plenty of characters who played extremely minor roles that did not need to be there in the first place. Ample potential for this cast means with a more thoughtful script would also come proper room for them to breathe.
I did appreciate how Michael Shannon depicted Shriver. Although not always convincing, his soft-spoken nature was a strong expression of Shriver’s trauma. Things start to get intriguing when Shriver comes into touch with a deeper part of his past after wrestling with impostor syndrome and a lacking sense of belonging. We could have done without the tired “talking to a ghost of himself” trope though, which only managed to add cheese and unnecessary exposition. This self-exploration is carried out externally in an attempt to win over more laughs, albeit with a surprising lack of emotional dynamic. At least it put him into some whacky, chaotic scenarios with a satisfying payoff in act three.
If it was not obvious already, I found this film’s drama more effectively written than its humor. However, neither the drama nor the humor are able to shine because of A Little White Lie ’s lack of identity. Intended to be a comedy, the narrative was shy in focusing on Shriver’s dark past, yet failed to sell me on the comedic irony of the premise most of the time. The end experience leaves us in an awkward middle ground that we just coast through. There is some potential for a dark comedy here, but I think A Little White Lie aimed for something more universal. Perhaps the novel was able to swing the reader’s emotions more than the film was able to manage for its audience.
What distracted me more than anything was the editing. There were plenty of very quick cuts that made me do a double take, and sometimes even kept me from absorbing information important to the story. This was particularly headache-inducing during the montage sequences. Shifting gears toward the music: I can understand having a limited track selection, but I never appreciate soundtracks as an afterthought to the film. There were a few awkward instances where the soundtrack would not fit the emotion it was trying to convey. A little more TLC during post production could have elevated A Little White Lie a little higher instead of dragging it down.
A Little White Lie falls short on a lot of different levels. It is okay as a light watch—something I would imagine seeing in the background of a family get together. The caliber of its production and the simple small-town story are reminiscent of a Hallmark movie, but with missed potential to be something more intriguing. Perhaps the novelists and bookworms of the world can get a bigger kick out of it.
A Little White Lie digs into the truth, releasing in theaters and on VOD on March 3.