White Lie is a Cautionary Tale for the Fake News Era
Lying, as professionals such as Tom Ripley or Frank Abagnale have shown, is a full-time job. It’s not enough to tell a lie here and there: you have to make sure that you completely and utterly committed to who you say you are. Watching great liars on screen deceive everyone around them can be a completely compelling experience; offering us the opportunity to see what we could get away with if only we were so committed.
And we all have given money to causes online without really doing any fact-checking. White Lie brilliantly plays with these fears, telling the story of Katie Anerson (Kacey Rohl), a pathological liar pretending she has cancer to try and con people out of their money. The film’s smartest trick is starting in the midst of things, Katie already knees-deep within her con before the camera even rolls. It opens with Katie shaving her head, making sure that every hair is gone before she goes about her daily life. On university campus — where she is training to be a dancer — she is something of a local celebrity, her crowdfunding campaigns seemingly dedicated to charitable causes while taking all the money for herself.
Hiding everything from everyone, including her girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson, in a lovely low-key bit of lesbian representation), her gruff doubting father Doug (Martin Donovan) and the tens of people who have donated money to her fake crowdfunding campaigns, Katie barely rests in her shameless search for university grants, cash handouts, and endless pity. But this is no mere, character portrait, White Lie providing many spanners in the works when Katie is asked to actually prove that she has a deadly illness, leading her on an Uncut Gems-like quest to dig herself out of an ever-widening hole.
Simply put, when White Lie brings white-hot thrills out of things as simple as scanning documents or lying to hospital receptionists, you know you’re in the midst of a fine movie. This is a wonderfully sly black comedy slash gripping thriller that barely wastes a scene. At the centre is a barnstorming performance by Kacey Rohl, who deserves to win all the awards and move onto bigger things. Playing someone perpetually committed to their own bit, we get the sense that Katie almost believes her own bullshit. Catching her in closely-shot one-in-one scenes with people who trust her completely, we see her play and manipulate their emotions like a cat with a toy.
We learn that this is a habit she has developed from childhood — after her mother’s death, she faked being ill so she would no longer have to go to school. But any further psychological inquiry is thankfully eschewed, leaving us caught in a trap between empathy and disgust, humour and rage. White Lie walks a fine, brilliant line, taking a genre — the one of the perpetual scammer trying to balance a thousand plates at once— often reserved for men, and bringing a scathing women’s take on the same material. I want to see this character have her own series.