There’s nothing small about the whopper at the heart of”A little white liea comedy drama about fame and impostor syndrome. The film’s central conceit – impersonating a renowned author, a janitor accepts an invitation to visit a liberal arts college – is brimming with potential. But writer-director Michael Maren (whose 2014 debut “A Short History of Decay” also featured a protagonist author) sticks to the obvious, ignoring potential themes of indiscriminate celebrity worship and oblivious university which would have added a satirical side to this brilliant but dull film.
Based on the 2013 novel “Shriver” by Chris Belden, “A Little White Lie” focuses on a handyman (Michael Shannon) leading a reclusive life in a dilapidated building who receives an invitation from a university to be the guest of honor at their annual literary festival.
Simone (Kate Hudson), the organizer trying to shield the hectic event from budget cuts, thinks she’s getting legendary author Shriver, who penned a famous novel 20 years ago and hasn’t been seen since. Shriver, a JD Salinger-like recluse who left the grid after the book’s publication and was never photographed, would be a coup for the college and save the festival.
On a whim, Shriver accepts the invitation despite his conscience and his inability to function in the contemporary world (he doesn’t have a credit card, carries his money in a bag of coins, and doesn’t even own a coin). identity with photo). Simone is delighted to greet him, even if the man’s terse manner and Forrest-Gumpian’s naivety don’t match her expectations.
Shannon is the kind of transcendent, subtle actor who makes you believe any character he plays, whether it’s General Zod trading blows with Superman in “Man of Steel” or, in this case, a a man who makes no sense on the surface. Shriver lets itself be used by journalists looking for an exclusive interview; he disastrously stumbles upon other authors’ presentations at the fair for no apparent reason; and he’s not worried when a police detective (Jimmi Simpson) accuses him of playing a part in the disappearance of another visiting writer (Ana Naomi King).
For half of the film, Shriver seems oblivious to the snowball mess he has inadvertently created, until his conscience (also played by Shannon) begins to appear in human form, a la Jiminy Cricket, telling him this. what he should and should not do. It’s a lazy, obvious trick to let us into Shriver’s head – to tell us he’s not all the white he seems to be. Director Maren doesn’t trust Shannon to convey this inner monologue via her performance – just one example of the film’s lack of wit or sophistication.
Don Johnson gives “A Little White Lie” a jolt every time he’s onscreen as a college thug who inexplicably believes in Shriver, even as the evidence of cheating continues to mount. But his character isn’t important until the real Shriver (Zach Braff) shows up on campus, photo ID and documents in tow, exposing the janitor scam. Hudson doesn’t have much to do except roll his eyes in exasperation at Shriver’s lack of sophistication, at least until the film takes the time for an absurd romantic interlude that should be studied in schools of cinema as writing errors to avoid.
Shot in a flat style by cinematographer Edd Lukas reminiscent of pre-release films made for network television, “A Little White Lie” unveils a twist in its final 30 minutes that finally picks up the slow pace, though the revelation makes no sense if you spend two seconds thinking about it. Still, in such a lackluster film, an absurd whopper is preferable to the tasteless slime that came before it.