Narratives surrounding cancer-afflicted characters have long been a go-to source of drama at the movies. From Meryl Streep in One True Thing to Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars, these ill-fated portrayals have broken hearts and won awards in equal measure. Now, Kacey Rohl joins that illustrious company with her uniquely impactful performance in the unsettling White Lie, directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas.
Rohl plays Katie, a university student in Canada who is an aspiring dancer. Due to a well-known cancer diagnosis, Katie is the center of attention on campus, with banners and magazines advertising the fundraising efforts for her treatment. Ever the opportunist, she has her eyes set on a scholarship aimed at helping those in need. But when she is asked for medical records to confirm her illness, a dark secret threatens to come to the fore. Her cancer diagnosis is completely fake.
Desperate to preserve her public image and continue her lucrative scheme, Katie finds herself falling deep into a rabbit hole of her own making. As she arranges forged documents and promotes a fundraising campaign for experimental treatment in Seattle, she begins to arouse suspicions among her loved ones. In particular, her shrewd father quickly becomes hip to her scam and begs her to stop.
As written and portrayed by Kacey Rohl, Katie emerges an anti-hero par excellence as she weaves her web of deceit. Though the narrative never seeks to paint her as worthy of our sympathy, Rohl is remarkable in her ability to diffuse any antagonistic energy within a given scene. With her pitiful expressions and tearful eyes, her performance-within-a-performance is wholly convincing.
While the film never provides any easy explanation of Katie’s motivations, her sheer commitment to her nefarious cause is compelling to watch. As she goes to great lengths to conceal the truth, there is even an element of social commentary through the way she leverages her white woman victimhood. Whether intentional or not, it’s noteworthy that the primary characters whose livelihoods she most puts at risk are Black people.
With its grim tone and unlikable protagonist, you won’t leave White Lie feeling better about the world. In fact, it will probably make you more cynical about humanity and the true nature of charity work. Indeed, White Lie would be hard to watch if it weren’t for Rohl. Chillingly self-assured, she fully delivers on a challenging role with one of the most accomplished performances you’ll see all year.