Who’s game for a French film reminiscent of 1983’s “The Big Chill”? Does anyone under 50 even remember “The Big Chill”? Oh well. It does seem, however, that actor-turned writer/director Guillaume Canet did, because “Little White Lies” (“Les petits mouchoirs“) has a very similar story line: old friends gather together for some drinking while a group member is at death’s door, or beyond.
In “Chill”, the friends reunited after a funeral for a friend (played by then-unknown Kevin Costner…whose performance as a dead guy was removed from the final cut, keeping him unknown for yet another couple years). In “Lies”, the pals unite for their yearly trip to the south of France without the boisterous and troubled Ludo (Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin), who was seriously injured in a drug & drink-fueled scooter crash.
Dujardin isn’t nearly as absent as Costner was in “Chill”, but the star of last years’ Best Picture “The Artist” is used sparingly, and nearly unrecognizable due to gnarly prosthetics. But American viewers will certainly recognize, and perhaps even buy their ticket on the strength of another Academy Award-winner: Marion Cotillard – familiar to anyone who’s swooned over the last two Christopher Nolan megahits (“Inception” & “The Dark Knight Rises”). Cotillard (also the wife of director Canet) plays a marijuana-lovin’, globe-trottin’ free spirit amongst her more financially-successful and uptight pals.
“Lies”, which was released in 2010 in France, was certainly shipped to the States to capitalize off the newly-found fame of Dujardin (let’s face it: he’s now the Gallic Clooney), and the tried-&-true Cotillard. Actor Francois Cluzet, who was introduced to the States in Robert Altman’s “Prêt-à-Porter” and “French Kiss”, may be vaguely familiar. But after witnessing his performance as the tightly-wound, homophobic hotel owner and beach-home host, you may want to check Netflix for some of his previous efforts, like his career-defining performance in Cantet’s acclaimed 2006 thriller “Tell No One”.
“Lies” also contains a soundtrack reminiscent of “Chill”, albeit nearly devoid of any French pop classics from Johnny Hallyday or even Serge Gainsbourg. Instead, The Isley Brothers, David Bowie and even the 90s band Eels are represented as nostalgic touchstones for the vacationing late 30-somethings.
Although enjoyable, “Lies” has nothing resembling the sensation of “The Artist”, and as it rolls along you may feel as if you are experiencing nearly every day of their two-week vacation. Also, you may feel your arm twisted behind your back in order to coax a big cry in the third act.
And if you’re a recovering smoker, prepare to face non-stop temptation. Those frogs sure do enjoy a good drag. Does anyone under 50 even call the French “frogs” anymore? Oh well.
~ Stephen Swanson