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The ensemble drama Little White Lies, helmed by French actor-turned-director Guillaume Canet, was an unexpected monster hit when it was released in France in 2010, with 5.2 million admissions in a country where even superheroes consider themselves satisfied with around 3 million butts in seats. So it’s something of a surprise that it has taken almost 10 years for Canet and his merry band of actors — including his partner, Marion Cotillard, Intouchables’ François Cluzet and local stars Gilles Lellouche, Laurent Lafitte and Benoît Magimel — to make a follow-up to what essentially boiled down to a very Gallic take on The Big Chill.
Imaginatively titled Little White Lies 2 in English, this was released May 1 in France as Nous finirons ensemble, which roughly translates as “We’ll End Up Together,’ suggesting this might actually be the last time we see this group of friends bicker, get drunk and/or high and tell each other how they really feel. Local audiences certainly ate it all up: 1.2 million French moviegoers bought a ticket during its first weekend (the original started with 1.3 million), suggesting this will be a solid hit, if perhaps not quite the record breaker the original was.
Abroad, this will likely be of more of a curio, especially in territories where part one was but a blip on the radar. However, it has to be said that, for all its problems — especially an overstuffed second half that prefers plot twists to character development and emotion — this is the rare sequel that works just as well as a stand-alone item.
It has been a few years since the middle-aged restaurateur Max (Cluzet) received his pals at his gorgeous summerhouse in the chic beach community of Cap Ferret (think a French version of the Hamptons, not far from Bordeaux). Even though one of their friends, Ludo (Jean Dujardin), was in the hospital after a serious accident, Max and his group of buddies tried to make the most of their vacation. But because things didn’t quite go as planned in the original film — which is pretty much what you’d expect from a film clocking in at a whopping 154 minutes — they haven’t seen much of one another since.
Unlike the picture-postcard summer backdrop of part one, Little White Lies 2 opens in the off-season. Max and his wife, Vero (Valérie Bonneton), are divorcing, and he’s selling the summerhouse to pay for a debt caused by a bad investment. Two kinds of trouble appear almost immediately on the horizon: Max’s group of friends have decided to visit him for a surprise party for his upcoming 60th birthday, even though they haven’t seen him in ages, and neither Vero nor any of those erstwhile friends know that he intends to sell the place where they hope to stay for a few days.
In the years that have gone by since their last gathering, some things have changed. Chiropractor Vincent (Magimel), who unexpectedly confessed his love for the 100 percent straight Max in part one, now shows up with an older male lover in tow, Alex (choreographer Mikaël Wattincourt). But Vincent’s now ex-wife, Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot), is still part of the group of friends, having found a new lease on life after her divorce through dating apps. Marie (Cotillard), who was such a sunny presence in the original, seems to be the one most affected by Ludo’s death even all these years later, smoking, drinking and cursing to drown out the pain and pushing away her responsibilities as the mother of a young boy.
Jovial famous actor Eric (Lellouche) and his awkward buddy-slash-assistant, Antoine (Lafitte), still have trouble balancing their professional relationship with their professed friendship, which sparks some friendly banter. And, more generally, it’s good news for lovers of goofy comedy that the maladroit Antoine clearly hasn’t grown up much since we last saw him, requiring rescuing in some instances and a doctor’s help in others.
As in the first film, some get drunk, others are horny, secrets are spilled, people dance to famous songs — Nena, Cyndi Lauper and Donna Summer are a few of the artists on the soundtrack — and everyone suddenly turns introspective when their late buddy Ludo comes up in conversation. Though the recipe was hardly an original one when the first movie used it, for roughly the first hour the formula works well enough here too.
But in the second half — spoilers ahead, in this paragraph only — the leisurely pace speeds up considerably as a lot of subplots come to a head. This is where Canet, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rodolphe Lauga, starts to ignore the characters in favor of a more plot-driven approach. The problem is that some of the plot points — including, notably, a suicide attempt and a possible drowning at sea of someone who was mostly ignored and then risks disappearing forever — require a psychological understanding of the characters that is practically lost because things are moving so fast. The lovely subplot involving the complex relationship of Vincent, his goody-two-shoes lover, Alex, and his more spontaneous ex-wife, Isabelle, initially seems to offer a more nuanced take on contemporary sexuality than we get in most French mainstream films. But Canet doesn’t find room for a scene that would resolve some of the fascinating issues this narrative thread raises.
In terms of the writing, it also has to be noted that, despite serious themes such as financial troubles or mental issues, the film feels like it takes place in a white bourgeois bubble that’s completely detached from contemporary French reality. There’s no mention of anything resembling social movements (like the grassroots gilets jaunes, or yellow vests) or possible threats to the country from terrorism or the far right. Beyond this, there are practically no characters of color anywhere in sight, which feels like an unreal reflection of today’s France.
The actors are all game and seem at ease within the large ensemble, content to shine in just one or two scenes each while hanging out in the background for most of the large group sequences. From a purely technical point of view, this is another highly polished effort. But let’s hope Canet puts his considerable directorial talents at the disposal of new, more inclusive material in his next film.
Production companies: Tresor Films, Caneo Films, Europacorp, M6 Films, Les Productions du Tresor, Artemis Production, VOO, BE TV
Cast: François Cluzet, Marion Cotillard, Gilles Lellouche, Laurent Lafitte, Benoît Magimel, Pascale Arbillot, Clementine Baert, Valérie Bonneton, José Garcia, Mikaël Wattincourt, Tatiana Gousseff, Jean Dujardin
Director: Guillaume Canet
Screenwriters: Guillaume Canet, Rodolphe Lauga
Producer: Alain Attal
Director of photography: Christophe Offenstein
Production designer: Philippe Chiffre
Costume designer: Carine Sarfati
Editor: Herve de Luze
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