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Kacey Rohl stars in White Lie as a young woman faking a cancer diagnosis.Courtesy of levelFILM

  • White Lie
  • Written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas
  • Starring Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson and Martin Donovan
  • Classification PG; 96 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

Although completely unintentional in its conception and execution, White Lie is the perfect movie for our lockdown era, where self-interest and self-sacrifice blur into a heady stew of paranoid toxicity that can tear apart lovers, friends and families. It is about the mistruths that we tell ourselves, the self-justifications that we give for our own worst behaviour, the creeping dishonesty that gets us through the night. It is about everyone’s capability for self-deception and guiltless gratification. And despite that massively depressing introduction, White Lie is a wildly entertaining ride, too.

I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction to the movie when I first caught it at the Toronto International Film Festival last September – although I should have known better. Co-directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas have made a consistently impressive mark on our small domestic industry since the pair released their micro-budget debut, the portrait-of-an-artist-as-a-young-man drama Amy George, in 2011. I still find myself occasionally enduring half-formed fever dreams about the pair’s beguiling 2013 follow-up, The Oxbow Cure, too. That’s not to mention 2018′s Spice It Up, a delightful experiment in meta-comedy that few people have seen and even fewer can knowingly luxuriate in, due to its deeply inside-baseball take on the insular world of Canadian indie film.

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Rohl is in the centre of almost every second of White Lie’s action, and much of the film's success rests on her shoulders.Courtesy of levelFILM

If you haven’t already sensed it, these were all small movies, in budget and scope and, in their own ways, ambition. Interesting and meaningful and memorable, but very, very small. So, back to last year’s TIFF, where I watched White Lie and felt an experience akin to realizing that your teenager has been successfully working away on the great American novel every night after you headed to sleep. It is a giant leap in scope and ambition, and watching all the hard and imaginative work that Lewis and Thomas sweated into an unforgiving system for years suddenly mature into a thrilling, startling piece of filmmaking is a pretty wondrous thing.

A character study that doubles as a ticking-clock thriller – or perhaps it’s the other way around – White Lie focuses on university student Katie (Kacey Rohl), who has been faking a cancer diagnosis for the past few months. Every morning, she shaves her head, adopts an exhausted demeanour, and lets the charade play out for dollars and sympathy. The trick has gone along smoothly enough so far – even Katie’s girlfriend (Amber Anderson) has been fooled – but as the movie opens, life is quickly catching up with the lie. This leaves Katie with about 48 hours to procure a forged medical record and keep her skeptical, estranged father (Martin Donovan) from blowing up her charade on social media.

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Rohl's character finds herself with 48 hours to procure a forged medical record to keep her charade going.Courtesy of levelFILM

With its go-go-go pace, skeevy protagonist, and nail-biting narrative, White Lie recalls another of TIFF 2019′s best selections, Josh and Benny Safdie’s Adam Sandler vehicle Uncut Gems, albeit with a few million dollars less in its production budget. But just as the Safdies were only as successful as their antihero – and the shape-shifting comic actor who played him – Lewis and Thomas can trace a good deal of their film’s energy directly to Rohl, who is in the centre of almost every second of White Lie’s action.

Part of Katie’s motivation is financial gain, but there is another, more wriggly reason that Rohl is required to hint at and toy with throughout the film – a complicated and tricky act for any performer. However, the young (but not inexperienced) Rohl handles the task with verve and nerve, creating a character you want to see both succeed and fail, all of which is likely the point that the film’s creative troika of Lewis, Thomas and Rohl are trying to make. Katie is no different than me, you, and everyone we know; we’ll convince ourselves of whatever little white lie we need to, so long as it helps us make it through the day.

White Lie is available digitally on-demand starting July 21

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