Sometimes, a movie comes along with so much talent that you look at and think, “This can’t miss.” Then you get smacked with the soaking wet newspaper of reality when it proves a disappointment. A Little White Lie, a comedy of deception that boasts Michael Shannon, Kate Hudson, Don Johnson, Zach Braff, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in its cast, never makes use of their skills and creates an believable depiction of academia and the literary world.
Shannon is one of the great actors working today, and truthfully, he’s so much better than the material given to him here. He plays depressed, alcoholic handyman C.R. Shriver, who is mistaken for a reclusive Salinger-esque author with the same name. Shriver receives an invitation to be the honored speaker at an annual festival held at the fictional Acheron University and, rather than doing the smart thing and ignoring the letter, decides to pull a ruse on the easily-fooled book geeks since nobody knows what the author looks like. Of course, most of them are too busy swooning over Shriver’s presence to realize that the person standing before them can barely string two sentences together.
Shannon largely shares the screen with Hudson, who plays writing professor, festival administrator, and Shriver authority Dr. Simone Cleary. She needs the festival to be a hit just to stay afloat, so while she’s skeptical of Shriver, she just doesn’t want things to blow up in her face. As long as this Shriver isn’t a total dud, she’ll keep quiet.
The combo of Shannon and Hudson, a culture clash scenario that also satirizes stuck-up literary critics and fans is rife with comic potential, Maren doesn’t actually do much with it. Shriver is in over his head almost immediately, but Maren never creates a situation where things feel like they’ve gotten out of control. A film with this zany of a premise needs energy to match, and A Little White Lie doesn’t have it. Maren occasionally mines a few laughs by skewering writers of all disciplines, like an ex-Rolling Stone journalist-turned-Internet blogger who tells Shriver that “nothing is more than enough” for creating online content. I mean, he ain’t wrong. But little nuggets of witty truth such as that are few and far between. A Little White Lie doesn’t have the sharp dialogue or high-brow humor of better films set in the authorly arena, and actors like Shannon and Hudson would do well to close the book on this forgettable chapter.
A Little White Lie is in theaters and on digital now.