Drama, 1 hr 36 min
Log line: A popular undergrad faking cancer struggles to maintain her secret.
a unique and gripping story of one woman’s commitment to fantasy
Have you ever told a lie and found yourself slowly entangled in a sticky web? Maybe you’ve tried to cover something up, and fought to keep it a secret, even while knowing what it could cost you. Such is the case with Katie in the Canadian drama White Lie. A fascinating examination of morals and ethics, White Lie tells the story of Katie Arneson, an undergraduate student running a fundraising campaign to support her trip to a Seattle medical facility, where she would get treatment for her recent cancer diagnosis. There’s only one catch, though—Katie’s faking it. This award-winning feature film made its world premiere in September 2019 with Toronto International Film Festival. White Lie was directed by filmmaker duo Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, and features Kacey Rohl (Arrow, Hannibal) as Katie, Amber Anderson (Emma, Black Mirror) as her girlfriend Jennifer, and Martin Donovan (Tenet, Big Little Lies) as her estranged father.
I know what you’re thinking—you should automatically judge Katie and condemn her for her immoral actions, especially considering the blow to actual cancer and illness survivors. Of course I can only speak for myself, but personally, I was fascinated and intrigued from the beginning. I was hooked and left wondering what would happen next, what Katie’s motivations were. The film opens with her shaving her already bald head. The story takes place over the course of one week, showing Katie’s race against time to alter her medical records for a scholarship deadline, while also struggling to keep her supportive girlfriend in the dark and her dad from exposing the truth on social media.
Some of my favorite elements of the film were its minimal but suspenseful score, the solid performances, and the writing. Rohl pulls off Katie’s illusive charisma and commitment to the upkeep of her ruse—that she doesn’t have cancer, and is taking advantage of everyone supporting her. She portrays the complexity of her character so well that it makes it hard to completely hate or condemn Katie. For me, the only question I had was the “why”. What’s in Seattle? Why is she really raising money? What is her motivator all throughout? And how does she manage to continue tricking everyone, Jennifer especially? I wonder if Katie ever felt any guilt or shame for her actions—if she ever did, when did she overcome them? I also can’t help but find Katie’s stubbornness impressive. Once her lies begin to unravel, she almost gets backed into corners over and over again, and yet she refuses to take the easy way out, doubling down on her fabrication.
My favorite scene, and perhaps the most pivotal, in the entire movie is of Katie coming to her father to ask him for money (unbeknownst to him, to pay for her forged medical records). What’s fascinating about this interaction is both their relationship and the viewer’s peek into Katie’s past. Her dad serves as the film’s truth seeker and is maybe the only person in the film to see right through her and her lies. From him, we learn that Katie has faked an illness before, in high school after her mother committed suicide. From that one statement and Katie’s feeble reasoning for why she needed the money, it’s easy to see why he wouldn’t believe her. The web only grew larger from there, leading Katie’s dad to expose her on the campaign Facebook page. Anyone else would take this to mean the jig is up for them, and they’d be forced to confess; Katie does the complete opposite. It’s both fascinating and sad to watch her dig a deeper grave.
What I love about White Lie is that it tells a different kind of queer story that we usually see. There is no coming out storyline, no forbidden love between two women, no drama or tragedy surrounding accepting your sexuality. It completely normalizes Katie’s sexuality and her relationship with a woman. It’s about a college student faking cancer to get money and attention, and she so happens to be a lesbian. These are the kinds of stories I want to continue seeing, of queer people simply existing, and of flawed women especially. I also liked how the filmmakers explored the fine line between believing sick or disabled people, and questioning whether they are really sick or disabled. Sadly enough, the kind of scam Katie pulled has happened in real life before—I’m glad the directors explored this kind of ruse and the motivations behind it.
I only wish there was another scene with Katie and her dad after he exposes her on social media, and that she could get a redemption arc. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but it’s more open ended, leaving you to decide whether Katie finally told the truth or not. Regardless of how you feel about Katie or the ending, you have to agree that this is an intriguing, complex story of self-destruction and skewed motivations. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get a sequel with a long-awaited redemption arc!
You can pre-order White Lie starting December 20th, and stream it on January 5th, 2021—take your pick of the following platforms: DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play. I highly recommend this film if you want to see a unique, complex story about a flawed queer woman and a commentary on morality. If you liked the Australian feature film Submerge, then you’ll really like White Lie!
Watch the trailer
Written By Shawna
Editor, Reviewer, Writer
Independent screenwriter and director with the focus of telling stories for and about women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups.