The Lies We Tell is Kabir McNeely‘s directorial debut and follows Andy (Eimara Eris)’s attempt to deal with the first anniversary of her boyfriend Jaden’s suicide on New Year’s Day. As her friends and family gather to celebrate the end of another year, Andy’s relationship with her mother becomes more difficult as secrets are revealed.
The Lies We Tell is archetypal of a debut feature and it’s clear the entire cast and crew are at the very start of their careers and the film has all of the flaws to be expected from a debut. The soundtrack is too loud and the dialogue between characters lacks any polish (assuming it can even be heard at all). The pacing is broken with awkward editing, and the plot will elicit far too many cries of “why would anyone do that?” from the audience to retain their attention. Even with a runtime of just 60 minutes, the plot still feels complicated and agonisingly slow at times. Considering The Lies We Tell is intended to be a mystery, there’s infuriatingly little of it and almost unforgivably no twists to appeal to fans of the genre. Therefore, if a flashback is ignored or missed, viewers would be forgiven for wondering whether it’s enough to conclude from.
However, it would be easy (and perhaps too cynical) to focus on the criticism because, at its heart, The Lies We Tell is a sincere attempt to tell a multifaceted and unusual coming-of-age story about burgeoning sexuality, difficult family, and the support of friends. It’s here the film does make some headway even if there doesn’t seem to be an explanation why Andy’s friends are at what’s meant to be a family gathering. The revelation about Andy’s personal life results in the all-too-common dismissal and homophobia the LGBT+ community still experiences from family and peers. Here, it serves to complicate what’s already a very fractured relationship between mother and daughter, pushing them further apart.
The core issue with the plot is that these themes are never drawn together into a complete whole. There’s no sense that the opportunity to explore these issues in more detail, even if only to give more depth to Andy and her mother’s character, was taken and everything feels a little clumsy. Even an additional scene or few extra lines of dialogue would be to benefit the film – especially if it resulted in some of the more stilted exchanges between supporting characters to be trimmed down.
It’s also difficult to understand or keep track of connections between characters. Who are the people at the party to one another? Whose house is it being held at? Whether this information is purposefully absent or lost amid the constantly-too-loud soundtrack, the lack of clarity is maddening – especially as so much of Andy’s discomfort in the film stems from the finer details. Additionally, considering how central Jaden’s death is, it’s a shame that the full 60 minutes of screentime wasn’t dedicated to him and his relationship with Andy or more work was done to make the film a genuine mystery. Alternatively, it could have been dialled back in favour of Andy’s relationship with her mother for a more solid – but arguably more predictable – coming-of-age story. As it is, The Lies We Tell tries to straddle both but in doing so, seems unsure of itself.
All this being said, Kabir McNeely and his cast show great promise and have tried to tell an ambitious story. While it hasn’t succeeded this time, it would be very interesting to see The Lies We Tell remade in, say, a decade once everyone has more experience and refined their craft. This is a strong debut and, while admittedly flawed, not as easy to dismiss as other directorial debuts.
DIRECTOR: Kabir McNeely
STARS: Kabir McNeely, Elmara Ellis, Bella Brusa
RUNTIME: 60 minutes