Indulgent and relentlessly purposeless as Little White Lies is, it nevertheless remains some distance preferable to its direct US equivalent Grown-Ups. Guillaume Canet's follow-up to his wildly successful Harlan Coben adaptation Tell No One again bears a marked American influence that leaves it ripe for export: it's a Gallic variant of those Big Chill-like reunion movies, in which a bunch of well-to-do thirtysomethings retreat in the wake of something terrible happening to one of their own (here, a motorcycle accident that hospitalises jaded bon vivant Jean Dujardin) and attempt to work out what to do with the rest of their time on this planet.
The party in Canet's film is led by stressed hotelier François Cluzet, for whom his close friend Benoît Magimel has gone totally gay; also present is free spirit Marion Cotillard, who similarly can't decide whether she prefers women or men, and seems unwilling to commit to anyone anyway. Behind them - and thick and fast, they come at last: a womanising actor, a lovestruck hang-up, various wives and children. About a quarter of the 150-minute running time is taken up by these characters greeting one another with a kiss on both cheeks, and half of the remainder has to find activities (football, jet-skiing, sailing) for them all to be getting on with - it's the rare instance of a movie director doubling up as a holiday camp director.
Other than that, Little White Lies proves to be one of those films that simply is what it is, with no pretensions or aspirations to be (or to be interpreted as) anything more besides: a nice working vacation for cast and crew, a vicarious pleasure for anybody looking on, with plentiful old songs to help the whole thing along. The script effectively functions as a sunny crisis-generation machine, some of these obvious - Cluzet's frustration with his unkempt back lawn and the weasels using his holiday home as their own personal playground, Cotillard's ongoing commitment issues - others slightly less so. What's crucial is that everyone eventually gets something to grumble about: it's only around the halfway point we learn that Magimel's wife has taken to Internet chatroom porn as compensation for the absence of actual bedroom activity in their marriage.
It could go on for four hours, it could go on for seven; it could become a Rivette-like experiment in filmed time without ever once getting out of third gear or working up any rigour or tension. That I felt inclined to give it a pass is partly because it didn't annoy me as much as, say, Peter's Friends did, and mostly down to Canet's genial way with his performers, Cluzet in particular, who makes something funny out of the sight of a man heading inexorably towards a stroke; Cotillard somehow keeps real and grounded a character who might elsewhere have come over as an insufferable kook, and Lellouche achieves the tricky feat of getting us to empathise with a Law- or Brand-style love rat. You should, however, be warned the approach towards performance is such you're expected to be moved, rather than irritated or dismayed, whenever anyone pulls out a guitar to trill a self-penned song, or when Canet invites his characters to sit round watching their old holiday videos. Every bit as commercially savvy as the director's debut, it appears less inclined to épater the bourgeois than to pat them, altogether squarely, on the back. Group hug!
Little White Lies is available on DVD from today.