Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: The Invention Of Lying

Imagine a world where no one lied. That there was no concept of lying, even. That all manners of fictions, deceits, imaginations and cons simply did not exist, and so neither did protections against them. Then imagine one man suddenly developed the ability to lie.

Or, don't imagine it and go see the new Ricky Gervais movie The Invention of Lying instead.

Or, maybe don't go see it.

The Boy said it was good though he thought it could've been funnier. Then the next day he said it was kind of depressing.

It's interesting. The premise posits a drab world—modern day but rather colorless—and presumes the most cynical values of "truth". After all, one can say any number of true things at any time. One doesn't have to pick the most hurtful truth. But that wouldn't be nearly as funny.

It's a fragile premise: As if we could get to this point without imagination. But even allowing for that, as if we could get to this point without the concept of differing in opinion or just simply being wrong. Survival would be unpossible.

OK, we're playing for laughs here. And it's sort of funny seeing the world without euphemism, though actually not as funny as it should have been. (I felt like I could think of a dozen funny opportunities missed.) Part of this premise seems to be that there's an agreed upon truth, and no one can deviate from it.

So, our hero (Gervais) is a homely loser who will never amount to anything—because he's a homely loser who won't amount to anything. We see him on a date with Jennifer Garner, who states flatly that she's out of his league and, even though she likes him, they're not "genetic matches"—as if that were a term with some sense to it.

In his darkest hour, something in his brain goes off, and he is able to lie to get himself out of a jam. And for a moment, it looks as though he's going to pull a Groundhog Day, using his power for self-indulgence until he hits rock bottom and comes out the other side. I was grateful they avoided this plot—though Gervais could certainly pull it off—because that was sort of the plot of Ghost Town.

Gervais is most emphatically not a jerk here. He's a nice guy who's been labeled a loser and believes that label (because he has no choice but to do so). He quickly turns his ability to lie to try to help others. (Not that he isn't plenty self-serving.) He brings his loser pals CK Louis and the suicidal Jonah Hill along for the ride, just for example.

The movie's turning point is very possibly its downfall. In one of the most touching scenes I've seen all year, Gervais sits with his mother as she dies.

I'm going to do a little SPOILER here, so beware if you want to be surprised. I wasn't surprised in the least, because the "twist" here had occurred to me about five times before it happened.

You've been warned. You probably should check out of this review now if you want to view this movie in a pristine state.

OK, so Gervais' mother (the lovely Fionnula Flanagan, whose name I spelled right without looking it up!) is dying and sobbing hysterically because that's the end and she'll cease to exist for all eternity, so to make her feel better, he invents Heaven. This makes her happy but increases the complications for him, since the staff overhears him and wants to know more.

Cue Life of Brian style intrigue.

Hugely touching scene. But now the movie's stepped in it. Truth is now materialism. And Gervais is then required to invent religion. But he does a piss-poor job at it, taking a micromanagement view of God that confuses everyone and gets them worked up.

Now, it's perfectly plausible that Gervais' character would do a poor job. But there was no reason for him to invent The Man In the Sky in the first place. No reason, in fact, that he would think of such a thing. All he had to do was invent the soul. Which makes the whole thing comes off rather anti-religion, atheist and working on the assumption that materialism is truth.

Then all of the "helpful lies" start falling apart, too. At first, we're given a world where no one is happy because there are no lies. Then we're given a world where no one is happy because of lies.

Well, a world where no one is happy isn't very funny. And all the guest-stars in the world (Jason Bateman as a smiling doctor who is completely unmoved by death, Rob Lowe as Gervais' genetically superior rival, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a bartender, Ed Norton as a cop, etc.) can only buoy it a little.

I've never had any opinions of Jennifer Garner in her early years but her work here and in Juno has really impressed me. (Though I do think she's kind of goofy looking. Is that just me?) At the same time, a scene with her and Lowe just lies there (as it were).

It all comes off a little clunky, and the sharp veer into what are rather heavy matters of truth and reality, ends up bringing the whole movie down to a limping pace. Kind of depressing, as The Boy says, and ultimately saying what about Man and humanity?

We can't be happy if we only believe the truth, and we can't be happy if we believe in lies, but we can be happy if we can fool everyone else with our lies?

I mean, it's a comedy, right? It probably didn't mean to be profound at all. But if not, it should have trod a lighter path.


  1. The religion part sounds in bad taste. Thanks for saving me 9 bucks!

  2. I don't like Ricky very much. I caught his unvarnished self on Kathy Griffin and he seemed like a major douche.


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