This review was provided by Isabella Soares from our Open Call for Film Critics & Writers! Buy your Festival pass or individual tickets to watch both these films on GIFF Online. Please check out Isabella’s other review of Almost Almost Famous here!
dir. Yonah Lewis / Calvin Thomas
2019 | Canada | 90 min.
Review by Isabella Soares
The definition of a “white lie” is a harmless untruthful statement, usually said in order to prevent people from being hurt. This definition is far from describing the nature of the lie that ultimately drives this film. A troubled young college student falsely admits having a cancer diagnosis through social media, gaining immediate status on campus, a successful virtual campaign, and multiple financial donations. However, these benefits are unable to keep her untouched by the unraveling of events that will contribute to her ultimate downfall.
From the very first scenes of this thriller-like Canadian production, Katie Arneson (brilliantly portrayed by Kacey Rohl) shaves her head in the bathroom, preparing herself to fit into the shoes of a narrative she built for herself. Like an actress she embraces the role whole-heartedly, flashing smiles in pictures, acting thankful for the donation envelopes, and promotes her hashtag #FightforKatie. While everything seems to fall into place and the lies flow naturally in a nerve-racking form, the first glimpses of reality stepping in happen when she is asked to share her medical records. From this point forward, the run for obtaining fabricated test results, doctors to back up her story, and prescribed medicine to prove her condition makes the act impossible to control.
Still, the people around her (specially her girlfriend Jennifer) continue to actively support Katie and believe in each explanation and financial request she formulates in order to maintain her “health struggles” confidential and never-ending. All people, with the exception of Katie’s father, Doug Arneson, who has witnessed his daughter in a similar scenario in high school (which is briefly explained in the course of the film) and is uneager to be a part of this catastrophic situation. Yet, she doesn’t let him stop her, and blindly remains feeling she has the power to manipulate whatever comes her way.
When everything seems to tumble down, money becomes an ongoing necessity. The shots become even more focused on the money she receives and let go in an ultimate liquidity, making her deficit higher and impossible to pay back. The inclusion of the social media aspect of the film makes it extremely relatable to our current reality. In the same way that media outlets help you gain notoriety, it can also destroy you with one click.
While this petrifying narrative has a beginning, middle, and end, it leaves out essential puzzle pieces to understand the protagonist’s complex personality. This is much due to the fact that the story is set in the course of a week, and does not include flashbacks that might have enhanced the overall storyline.
As a whole, Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’ “White Lie” is a depiction of the tragic reality of fraudulent online fundraising campaigns, and its aftermath in a world that is interconnected and more powerful than you can ever imagine. Despite featuring an overwhelmingly talented cast, as well as the edgy guitars and heavy sounding cellos that compose an absolutely fitting soundtrack, it lacks a profundity necessary to uplift the feature’s goal in unraveling the protagonist’s destructive journey and understand her mental and emotional state.