A Little White Lie
by George Wolf
If I see Michael Shannon’s name in the credits, I’m interested. It’s just math. And Shannon gets the lead in A Little White Lie, a comedy that benefits more from its winning ensemble and breezy attitude than any sustained humor or underlying substance.
Shannon plays Mr. Shriver, a struggling barfly who happens to share a surname with reclusive novelist C.R. Shriver. After penning the counterculture classic “Goat Time,” C.R. retreated from the limelight and his legend only grew, which is why Prof. Simone Cleary (Kate Hudson) needs to find him so badly.
Simone is in charge of the annual literary festival at tiny, cash-strapped Acheron College, and that festival is going to be cancelled after 91 years unless she can land C.R. Shriver for a special guest appearance.
Well, what are the odds that her invite lands in the mailbox of Shannon’s Shriver, and he thinks there’s a new car in it for him, so he decides to play along? And, wouldn’t you know it, the festival’s theme this year is the Alanis Morrisette-approved “Truth, Fiction and Alternative Facts!”
Writer/director Michael Maren is again setting his sights on literary integrity, but much like his 2014 debut A Short History of Decay, he can never probe more than surface deep.
Though Shannon is effectively befuddled and Hudson is sweetly desperate, a succession of supporting actors (including Don Johnson, Zach Braff, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Wendie Malick) run in and out of the hijinks with little more than funny hats available as character development.
Maren is clearly frustrated by a book culture where writing “absolutely nothing is more than enough,” but cannot draw enough drama or humor from his own script to make this film memorable in any way.
The only draw is how gamely Shannon and Hudson navigate the paper-thin hoax shenanigans of A Little White Lie. They do it well. And after the recent successes of equally forgettable fluff such as Ticket to Paradise and 80 for Brady, that may be more than enough.