Director: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson Notable Cast: Ricky Gevais, Jennifer Garner, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey
For some, lying is easier than telling the truth. Like trying to reassure a girlfriend by telling her, “oh no, those shoes don’t make your butt look big.” Yes it’s a lie, but only a teeny-tiny one. A guy will say anything to avoid confrontation or make himself more appealing to the opposite sex.
Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson’s The Invention of Lying is a subversive look at an alternate reality of untruths. So imagine that above scenario if applied to this universe. The guy would be brutally honest, telling his gal that yes, her ass looks big in those shoes. The girlfriend wouldn’t get upset, however, excepting his opinion as fact. This act of uncontrollable honesty is a bit distressing.
The opening act of Lying is clever at exploring the ramifications of a world without deception. Advertisements don’t mask what the products are selling. Cheap motels entice consumers by acknowledging them as a place to have sex with strangers. A rest home is “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People.” These are wacky gags that would fit nicely into a comedy sketch, but stretching what seems should be a five-minute sketch into a feature-length film is simply that: a stretch.
Our hero, Mark Bellison (Gervais) doesn’t have what you would call a successful life. He gets fired from his screenwriting job, doesn’t have a girlfriend, and his mother is about to die. But Mark possesses the ability to lie. How he came to possess such a power is not explained; the audience is supposed to except it as so. Lying gives him the freedom to become successful, much to the dismay of his rival, Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe). As his mother lays on her deathbed, Mark consoles her by unraveling the story about The Man in the Sky. The doctor and nurses are enraptured by the comfort paradise he speaks of. When word spreads across the globe about The Man in the Sky, Mark devises his own rules (commandments) to appease the masses.
The inclusion of Mark’s dogma creates a tonal shift in the comedy. Now instead of being just a gimmick comedy about humans who are incapable of lying or a romantic comedy, it’s a religious satire. A noted atheist, Gervais’s farcical look at religion might turn off some viewers. (At the screening I attended, a few audience members left.) Which is why Warner Brothers omitted the subplot from trailers and TV spots. Instead, the ads overplay the romantic angle between Mark and the beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner), a woman who dismisses his portly stature and snub nose.
Anna is looking for an ideal mate for procreation, to which Mark does not meet. Apparently in this universe good genes takes precedence over unconditional love. Mark remains supportive of Anna, in spite of her constant rejections. Other than her beauty, it is not known why Mark loves Anna as much as he does. To win her over, he experiments with his newfound power to become world-famous. But wealth and power is still not enough to win her heart.
Ricky Gervais may have become a star with the original Office series, but his introduction to American audiences, last year’s Ghost Town, was a mixed effort. But he was just an actor for hire. For Lying, he stars, co-writes, directs and produces. This is his movie. He crams three different comedies into one – each representing one of the three acts in the film. It begins harmlessly enough, exploring the absurdity of living in a world of no contradictions, but it unhinges and loses focus quickly. And by the end Gervais is consulting the romantic comedy playbook and finds himself in a wedding break-up scene.
There will be those that say The Invention of Lying should be positioned next to films like Idiocracy and Groundhog Day as comedies that have become cult hits because of their high-concept gimmicks. High concept they are, but the two movies are also better at depicting the characters and their interactions with their environment. The characters of Lying have no foresight of thinking before speaking. They reveal everything about each other, even though it’s possible to tell the truth without divulging every single detail. Gervais and Robinson squander a great premise by having a limited (not limitless) reach. Not even music montages and celebrity-heavy cameos (including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton) could make the comedy anything more than forgettable.
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!