Mistaken Identity Comedy-Drama ‘A Little White Lie’ Wastes Michael Shannon – Film Review

Saban Films

Kate Hudson plays a hopeful academic programmer down on her luck trying to save a school’s literary festival. She realises that a big booking like the mysterious author Shriver may inject some life into the dying festival.

She contacts Shriver, a one-hit-wonder who stormed the literary world without showing his face 20 years ago. Part of this author’s appeal was that no one ever knew his identity; no photos or interview footage of the man were taken.

The Shriver (Michael Shannon) who receives the invitation is a down-on-his-luck handyman who has never read a book in his life. He accepts the interview and decides to play along with the game, not quite sure what he has gotten himself into.

Shriver finds himself diving headfirst into the unknown world of writers, poets and nonchalant creative writing students. Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Only Murders In The Building) plays an adoring fan, whilst Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away With Murder) is a feisty poet with much to say about the content of Shriver’s novel. They are just some of the ragtag eccentric characters who appear throughout A Little White Lie.

This alleged handyman doesn’t realise that Shriver’s novel is incredibly polarising and possibly incriminating. It features very graphic sex scenes and a detailed description of the murder of the lead character’s (also called Shriver) wife.

When Aja Naomi King’s Blythe goes missing, the eccentric author who wrote a book on killing a woman is obviously the lead suspect. Jimmi Simpson’s (Westworld) Detective Karpas is especially wasted in this side-tangent. There is a lot of fun to be had between a fixated detective and a man pretending to be an author who may have killed his wife, yet this plot mostly gets skimmed over. The script teeters on delving into the misogyny of many lauded male writers, their work and their fanbase, but this isn’t that type of film.

Saban Films

This movie suffers from too many side plots that get shoved in with little to no payoff. This includes Peyton R List’s cheerleader, a gynecologist literature fan and a journalist who has only spoken to Shriver over the phone. Don Johnson’s alcoholic T. Wasserman makes a fantastic sidekick to the slightly unorthodox Shriver, the pair out of time in a world they don’t belong in, but his character struggles to find a place in the narrative.

A spanner is thrown into the works when the ‘real’ Shriver turns up as Zach Braff. Some people believe him, and some don’t. This revelation really throws A Little White Lie into a new level of extreme farce. To some, it may dive too far into the absurdity, whilst others may rejoice in the knowing lack of seriousness.

A Little White Lie smartly keeps you guessing whether this is the right Shriver. The concise script makes it ambiguous whether the author is doing a bit, doesn’t want to admit he’s this slightly faded writer, or it is truly a case of mistaken identity for long enough that you actually find yourself caring. A genuine payoff at the end and a few surprises along the way make the journey worth it.

A Little White Lie, which director Michael Maren adapted from the best-selling novel “Shriver” by Chris Beldon, is an uneven but entirely watchable tale. It’s mostly a farce that occasionally but unsuccessfully dips into rom-com and satire. The script is tight, and the 100 minutes zip past almost too quickly. Character development and context are missed in favour of laughs and silliness.

Michael Shannon is wasted as Shriver, as are many of his co-stars, but they seem to be having fun with the silly little script. Part of the film’s charm is seeing Shannon play against his standard broody type. A Little White Lie is an enjoyable little jaunt through the world of academia, writers and the creative mind.

A Little White Lie opened in theatres and on digital on March 3

by Amelia Harvey

Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy

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