The new film A Little White Lie follows Simone (Kate Hudson), a professor and failed writer from a small Colorado college. Simone wants a famous reclusive author, C.R. Shriver, to be the keynote speaker and main attraction to their annual literary festival. If Simone doesn’t grab a big name, they will close the event for good. And who is better than the man who wrote Goat Time? A modern masterpiece that was published over thirty years ago, and he has never written another novel since. Little is known about the man except for the black and white photo on the back of the book jacket that only shows a hazy silhouette of his face.
The problem is the Shriver (played by Michael Shannon) that receives the letter is not the real writer but a down-on-his-luck superintendent of an apartment building that is falling apart. The man is a mess and obsessed with the enormous water strain growing on his ceiling. His wife left him, and he only has two friends. One is his buddy (Memento’s Mark Boone Junior), who encourages Shriver to go to the college so he can get a free all-expenses paid trip out of the deal. The other is another version of himself, as Shriver talks to his alternate ego, a more assertive, unkind version, who keeps encouraging him to do unsavory things.
A Little White Lie is an adaptation of Chris Belden’s Shriver, an ultra-cynical take on academia folded into a mystery of academic fraud. Written and directed by former New York Times foreign correspondent Michael Maron (A Short History of Decay), this is his sophomore feature that captures, in my opinion, the absurdity of it all when it comes to academia’s obsession with publishing and self-proclaimed artists.
This is mainly a way to put the “expert” stamp on their resumes. This is an eclectic group, ranging from a Yellowstone wannabee, angry female empowered poets, an oblivious hotel attendant, and an instructor running out the clock who wants to eat his sandwich on a bench in peace. A fun and quirky set that seems normal because of Shannon’s take on Shriver, which is a socially awkward, stoic drunk who cannot string along three sentences without them stumbling out of his mouth like rocks.
A Little White Lie is a fundamentally flawed film that is rushed and unintentionally ambiguous
The story falters a bit in two areas: The forced romance between Hudson’s Simone and the plot point of who Shannon’s Shriver is. Both are undercooked in some ways. Sean Connery once told us in Finding Forrester that a woman will sleep with you even if you write a terrible book. However, the scene where Hudson makes her move is odd and is set up by, what I can only assume, is a quote from a book she wrote. Not that any romantic encounter needs to play out like a rom-com on screen, but the scene doesn’t gel.
The ending, which involves the plot point of who finds the real Shriver, is undercut by casting Zach Braff in a role that is oddly out of place. His take is simply too comical and cartoonish. The storyline should have been camouflaged to take on the more esteemed and believable character. This would have led to a more significant payoff in the end.
A Little White Lie has an excellent cast, including Don Johnson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Aja Naomi King, Peyton List, and one of my favorite, I say with affection, weirdos on screen, Jimmi Simpson. (He will always be Lyle, the Intern on The Show with David Letterman). Shannon is one of the most engaging actors on the planet and makes the movie worth watching. However, the movie’s enjoyable parts are not enough to recommend as a whole since the plot doesn’t come together.
The final result is a fundamentally flawed film that is rushed, unintentionally ambiguous, and somewhat disingenuous. I give it 2.5/5 stars. The movie is available now on Digital and On Demand.