The 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War forms the backdrop of Maya Kenig’s Off-White Lies, a mildly amusing dramedy about a tumultuous father-daughter relationship, but its function as narrative impetus doesn’t extend to anything like social or political commentary. As a way to usher the film from cursory exposition to necessary conflict, though, it’s perfectly serviceable: When Shaul (Gur Bentwich), a self-described “inventor” without a home or a car or much in the way of prospects, takes in his Westernized adolescent daughter, Libi (Elya Inbar), from her adopted home in California, he quickly finds it necessary to provide her with a roof he doesn’t have and can’t afford, and the sudden array of rooms being lent out in Jerusalem to refugees from the North seems like an ideal quick fix. And having Shaul and Libi shack up with a middle-class family is also, of course, a helpful screenwriting shortcut: The pair’s struggle to dupe their skeptical foster family into buying a flimsy (and patently false) sob story is the stuff solid sitcom arcs are made of, and the requisite near-reveals and hasty cover-ups demanded by such a con game are often funny enough even when telegraphed far in advance.
Much of the film’s appeal rests on the shoulders of Bentwich and Inbar, who, despite their inexperience, deliver two measured, understated performances. Inbar in particular has a surprisingly commanding screen presence, and her ability to flit between carefree whimsy and a convincingly sad-eyed melancholy lend her underwritten character some much-needed emotional depth. But she’s contending with a screenplay plagued with contrivance, a battle few could win. The problem, ultimately, is that the script’s endless misunderstandings and zany close-call antics amount to very little, which means that Off-White Lies, despite the best efforts of its likeable cast, never manages to transcend its sitcom-premise roots—and at least in that format it would have been limited to 20 minutes rather than stretched out to an overlong 86. In its last act the film is forced to navigate the consequences of its lie-laden premise, a dilemma it can’t seem to handle without resorting to paltry cliché; in the end, that it deigns to sidestep its central problem rather than dealing with it head-on just shows the degree to which the film has written itself into a corner.