Mike White is a multitalented writer, director, actor, and producer who broke into Hollywood by penning Dead Man On Campus in 1998. In the two decades since, he has created multiple TV shows, written mainstream and independent movie scripts, and directed a handful of his own screenplays on both the big and small screen.
White’s latest project includes HBO’s hit satirical dramedy, The White Lotus, which has been renewed for a second season despite being conceived as a limited miniseries. As fans anticipate what a second season could entail at the lavish Hawaiian resort, it’s worth noting White’s diverse resume as a content creator.
10 Year Of The Dog (2007) – 6.0
While the scripts White wrote for Dead Man On Campus and Beatriz at Dinner share the exact same IMDb rating, his directorial debut, Year of the Dog, holds a special place on his resume. White not only wrote, directed, and produced the film, but also reunited with his longtime friend, Molly Shannon, who plays the lead role in the superb story about the friendship between an animal and a human.
In an emotionally impacting character study, the simple story follows Peggy (Shannon) as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life after her beloved pet dog passes away. Profoundly touching and humorously relatable, the film proves White has just a deft touch with the camera as he does with the pen.
9 Orange County (2002) – 6.2
White also wrote the amusing 2002 coming-of-age comedy Orange County, in which Stanford hopeful and aspiring writer Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) is rejected from the school of his choice when the wrong application is sent by his counselor. Along with the help of his bumbling stoner brother, Lance (Jack Black), Shaun races to file the proper transcripts.
Despite the sophomoric shenanigans, White, once again, shows how much heart and soul he puts into his characters when Shaun realizes he’s happiest at home and inspired most by his family and friends, and doesn’t need to live in Palo Alto to be a great writer.
8 Cracking Up (2004) – 6.3
White began his long-running working relationship with Molly Shannon on Cracking Up, a 12-episode sitcom on Fox he created in 2004. The premise follows a dysfunctional family living under a mirage of perfection in lavish Beverly Hills, where college student Ben Baxter (Jason Schwartzman) returns and feels deeply alienated.
Unfortunately, the show was canceled due to poor ratings after nine of the 12 episodes aired, leading to a frustrating lack of closure for fans who enjoyed the show. In a bit of a fun fact, White’s longtime directorial pal, Miguel Arteta, who directed White’s Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl, and Beatriz at Dinner, worked on Cracking Up as well. White often reteams with talent on both sides of the camera to foster a creative shorthand.
7 The Good Girl (2002) – 6.4
Released the same year as Orange County, The Good Girl is a whimsically moving and underrated romantic comedy written by White. Jennifer Aniston gives one of her most well-received performances as Justine Last, an unhappily married discount store cashier who forges an odd bond with the new stock boy, Holden Worther (Jake Gyllenhaal), who fancies himself as the central character from The Catcher in the Rye.
With White’s trademark offbeat characters, who are full of quirky idiosyncrasies to go with their big hearts and flawed personalities, The Good Girl was praised for showing a different side of Aniston’s acting range. Moreover, it explores White’s thematic motif that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.
6 Brad’s Status (2017) – 6.5
The third and most recent movie White directed includes Brad’s Status, an intimate, affecting, and well-observed tale of a father and son bonding while visiting potential colleges for the boy to attend on the east coast. But when Brad (Ben Stiller) has a run-in with old friends who’ve become far more successful, Troy’s collegiate coming of age turns into Brad’s angst-ridden midlife crisis.
Praised for its understated humor, authentic performance by Stiller and a highly relatable statement about feeling inept, unsuccessful, and inadequate in a world that continues to benefit the top 1 percent, Brad’s Status is the best movie White has directed, thus far.
5 Chuck & Buck (2000) – 6.6
Few projects White created showcases his signature brand of oddball humor than Chuck & Buck, his second feature screenplay. White also stars in the film as Buck O’Brien, an unfathomably obnoxious manchild who aggressively stalks his childhood friend Chuck (Chris Weitz) with the intention of rekindling their bond.
With painfully awkward, cringe-inducing moments of humor that make viewers both love and hate the characters at once, Chuck & Buck also makes a trenchant and unpredictable statement about friendship.
4 School Of Rock (2003) – 7.1
The most commercially successful and critically adored movie White has written to date is School of Rock, the rousing crowd-pleaser from director Richard Linklater featuring a star-making turn from Jack Black. As a celebratory ode to outsiders everywhere, the film encourages kids to embrace their inner selves and express themselves outwardly, despite the consequences.
White also co-stars in the film as Dewey’s (Black) roommate, who helps him get a job as a substitute teacher at a stuffy private school. As Dewey proves his worth as an educator by getting through to the kids, they repay him with a profound sense of teamwork as they compete in the Battle of the Bands. As a massively entertaining family affair, School of Rock is White’s most accessible movie to date.
3 Enlightened (2011) – 7.6
Fans of The White Lotus would be wise to revisit Mike White’s preceding HBO original series, Enlightened, which features one of the best performances by Laura Dern, who won a Golden Globe for her turn as Amy Jellicoe. Billed as a show about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Amy embodies so much more as she picks up the pieces of her shattered personal and professional existence.
The flawed humanity and well-rounded dimensionality of Amy, both on the page and on the screen, is as natural and realistic as can be, making for some of the most satisfying television dramas of the past decade. The tonal balance of the tragicomedy is perfectly tailored to White’s sensibilities.
2 The White Lotus (2021) – 7.7
In a riveting culmination of all that he’s done best in his career – quirky humor, offbeat characters, relatable circumstances, and biting satire – The White Lotus is among White’s finest creative moments. The show follows an insufferable collection of affluent hotel guests in Hawaii whose self-involved problems blind them to their life of privilege and entitlement.
From the tropical locale and the exotic music to the lavish costumes and unlikeable characters, the murder-mystery element becomes secondary to White’s commentary about the shallow materialism and superficial decadence that prove nearly as harmful.
1 Pasadena (2001) – 7.9
Despite being canceled after one season due to poor ratings, Pasadena remains the highest-rated project Mike White has created thus far. The story concerns Lily McAllister (Alison Lohman), a young woman embroiled in a murder mystery that may be related to her opulent family in Southern California. The show is named after White’s birth city.
In addition to its creation, White penned six episodes of the critically acclaimed primetime soap opera that aired on Fox from September to November of 2001. Deemed too dark and cynical for audiences in the aftermath of 9/11, the show failed to find its footing. Fortunately, White bounced back in 2002 with two produced feature screenplays.