We are all familiar with the concept of lying. People don’t tolerate it and every religion speaks out against it. However, the term “white lie” sometimes gets a pass as if it is a light version of lying. People will often admit to telling a little white lie every now and then. For instance, it is easier to give someone a compliment on their haircut when you really don’t like it than it is to tell them how you really feel about it and hurt their feelings. Perhaps that is what Katie tells herself in the indie film, White Lie when she tells others that she is battling cancer. She really is sick. Just not in the way that most people think.
You may not be aware of this movie, but that probably has more to do with the fact that the film had to bypass theaters due to COVID-19. It is worth a home viewing. Normally, watching a film about a young woman’s personal struggle with cancer wouldn’t sound appealing to many people. But watching a movie about a young woman pretending to have a personal struggle against cancer sounds a whole lot more intriguing. That’s what we have here.
Directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, White Lie feels somewhat unfinished. It is as if someone took a movie and cut out the first and third acts and only left you with the middle of the story. The movie begins with Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl) well into her lies of deception. She’s staring at the bathroom mirror before she goes on with her morning routine of shaving her head. Her shaving is very precise; a direct contrast to the way she keeps house. Her apartment is a mess and is a metaphor for the her life. The undergrad then heads off to school where we learn that she has a passion for dancing and is quite good at it too. Fellow students are impressed that someone so sick is able to perform so well.
As Katie passes down the hallways, she is greeted with fundraising posters asking for donation to help support her. Fellow students take smile, hug and take selfies with Katie. And there is a scholarship that she has applied for that looks like a slam dunk except for the fact that the school is needing a copy of her medical records for proof of her illness and it is due in just a few days. Katie swears that she has asked for them from her doctor and pretends to be surprised that they hadn’t arrived yet.
It’s clear that lying is a way of life for Katie and is she’s a master. It’s hard to know when she is being genuine. Only a few times in the film are we sure that her reactions are genuine. She abuses her relationships in order to keep this charade going. Her girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson) and fellow dancer Kadisha (Zahra Bentham) adore her. The former has plenty of money to help fund Katies’ many expenses and the latter’s mother want to help support Katie as well. Neither appear to ever doubt anything that Katie says.
However, not everyone is fooled by Katie. Her own father (Martin Donovan) is not only skeptical of Katie’s illness but accuses her of acting out like she did years before when her mother died from suicide. It is clear that he loves her, but he doesn’t believe her. Almost instantly she goes from disappointment to rage accusing him of not being supportive. She tells her friends that all he has ever done has lied. Is this part of her story true? We don’t know.
But time is running out and Katie needs to continue looking sick and keep this ruse going in order to get her scholarship. She works with Owen (Connor Jessup) a drug dealer, Jabari (Thomas Olajide) a young doctor willing to fake her medical records and an older crocked doctor (Darrin Baker) who is willing to give her special medicine that will make her lose even more weight and look sicker than ever. All of these services come with extra fees that Katie can’t afford. With each new interaction, another lie is placed on top of the others making for a very tall and wobbly tower of deception.
White Lie isn’t preachy in that we already know that lying is no good for any of us, but it does give a lesson on what to look for in a chronic liar. It’s a fascinating physiological thriller watching this girl do anything she has to do to keep the lid on top of her many secrets. You end up feeling sorry for Katie and disgusted with her at the same time. You want to shake Jennifer for being so trustworthy and you want to applaud Katie’s father’s efforts as he publicly tries to get others to see this ruse for what it is.
Rohl, who is in every scene, is amazing baring all (at times literally) to give a very truthful performance of a chronic liar. At times, you might even get fooled by her antics.
As far as endings go, I don’t need everything spelled out for me, but choosing to end the story on a rather vague note was disappointing. However, it does feature one iconic moment is satisfying and gives a glimmer of hope for truth to win out.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.