The Invention of Lying Review

As someone fascinated by lies, half-truths and that general gray area of dishonesty, The Invention of Lying is a wildly entertaining film. Plus it has Ricky Gervais. The film’s final act may peter out without much in terms of satisfying resolution, but The Invention of Lying represents another underappreciated gem in Mr. Gervais’ coffers. Many films have explored the necessity of small lies to keep the world spinning, but never has it been done with such brutal and straightforward intentions of exposing everything that contains any degree of falsehood. Imagine if every cultural and social taboo was laid bare for all to see, people aren’t embarrassed by them, but accept them as an incontrovertible truth that can be weighed according to a scale of definite value. Simply put, ugly people know they’re ugly, pretty people know they’re pretty, and no one makes any pretense towards pretending otherwise.

Some might consider it a moral utopia, but Gervais shows it to be a hellish reality. Until he changes it. With a lie.

In a world where everyone tells the truth about everything, Mark Bellison (Gervais) has just lost his job as a staff screenwriter, has proven himself to be an unsatisfactory mate for Anna (Jennifer Garner), the girl of his dreams, and has been evicted from his apartment. He visits a bank to withdraw the last $300 in his account so he can rent a moving truck to move out of the apartment when he lies. It happens suddenly; he doesn’t even understand the mechanics of it. The bank’s network is down, and so he dishonestly tells the bank teller that his account should have $800. After the lie has been said, the system reboots only to reveal Bellison’s statement as a lie – but the very principle of the universe he lives in causes the teller to trust what the law of the world tells her must be true and accept his word as the honest to God truth. She updates the system’s records and gives Bellison $800.

Lying is born. As Bellison learns the rules of the new tool he’s discovered, he begins to use it to his benefit. He returns to the movie studio which, in this world of absolute truth, makes only non-fiction pieces starring a single actor telling a story on camera, with a new revolutionary screenplay in hand (all of which is an outlandish fabrication about the Black Plague). His sudden earth-shattering success humbles his cowardly boss (Jeffrey Tambor), and angers his acclaimed storytelling colleague Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe). Bellison’s good fortune continues unabated, as he establishes religion, sets new cultural norms, and uses lies to endear himself to the once dismissive Anna, who gradually begins to doubt the wisdom of measuring every human being by their immediate, honest appearance.

The Invention of Lying takes aim at religion, marketing, and love, contesting the validity of each as nothing more than social constructs derived from one degree of fear or another. Fear of death. Fear of competition. Fear of dying alone. It hits, but it pulls its punches with a certain amount of discretion so as never to fully discredit the inherent necessity of each in the real world. Religion comforts us with a promise of a destination post-mortem. Marketing allows us to justify wanting things. Love justifies latching on to another human being in tough times. Certainly we could do all these things without prodding, but the human condition craves validation. Writers and directors Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson give it to us, but with the typical cynical sneer that has become Gervais’ trademark comedy.

For all the brilliance in the story’s allegory, the pacing of the final third feels oddly abrupt. After making apparent headway against Anna’s honesty-driven judgments of human character and value, she jumps suddenly at the proposal of Bellison’s rival Kessler, acknowledging his offer of marriage as a mutually rewarding bond. The film spends a few moments establishing that relationship, and then jumps suddenly ahead to a wedding wherein Bellison reveals his “magical” ability to lie and wins Anna’s heart with the moment of honesty where he didn’t attempt to sway her into loving him with an untruth. It’s the happy ending we want, but it arrives slightly too quickly to be really satisfying without that span of time where Anna and Kessler bond pre-wedding and Bellison gradually winds into a state of bearded- depression. It’s still a great film, though the final third ought to have had more to fill in the gaps.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

A digital copy, some outtakes and deleted scenes fill-out the extra features menu, with a few strong featurettes to make further exploration worthwhile. The extras explore everything from the making of the film to the concept of a world without lies. Cast and crew gather around to “praise” Ricky Gervais’ genius, some hilarious podcasts have Gervais hyping the film during production, and Karl Pilkington, one of the co-stars of the upcoming Ricky Gervais Show, makes a travelogue of his journey to Hollywood to star in his first Hollywood film.

Another fun thing about The Invention of Lying is the sheer number of cameos that pop up, including Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman, and Christopher Guest. Tina Fey and Jonah hill also star.

"The Invention of Lying" is on sale January 19, 2010 and is rated PG13. Comedy. Directed by Matthew Robinson, Ricky Gervais. Written by Matthew Robinson & Ricky Gervais. Starring Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Ricky Gervais, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey.

Jan
23
2010
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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