Wednesday, August 11, 2010

[Movie Review] The Invention of Lying

I have to admit up front that I've never been a huge fan of Ricky Gervais. He usually seems to play obnoxious characters and while he's undoubtedly good at it, I tend to associate him exclusively with that sort of attitude and it doesn't endear him to me. In The Invention of Lying, he plays a somewhat more sympathetic fellow - a fellow who happens to live in a parallel universe wherein the concepts of lies, exaggerations, and untruths have never been born. Everyone speaks the plain, unvarnished truth - often divulging painfully blunt opinions in the process. There's no fiction - the idea of telling a "story" has never been conceived. Instead, entertainment consists of the retelling of historical information. Advertisements for Pepsi read, "For when they don't have Coke." There's no religion, no clever marketing, no sparing of the other person's feelings. Just the vicious truth.

Gervais's character, Mark, is a loser in this world. He's short, fat, generally unattractive, and not smart enough to have found enough of a niche to compensate for his other shortcomings. He begins the film trying to woo Anna, played by Jennifer Garner. But she's uninterested in him and tells him so right up front. Even if she were to find his personality enjoyable, he's not a good enough genetic match for somebody as beautiful as she is, so she'd never consent to have his children. It's a dead-end, and so off they go.

Mark then has to deal with the prospect of losing his crummy job (and the gloating of co-workers Rob Lowe and Tina Fey, who really rub his nose in his failure), possibly missing his rent payment, and the failing health of his mother. But, suddenly, his brain makes a connection that nobody has ever made before in the history of mankind - he realizes that he can say something which is not true. And because it's such an unknown concept, everyone reacts to his outlandish statements of fact with utter and complete gullibility. He can not only lie, but belief is guaranteed.

Suddenly, Mark has access to nearly unlimited wealth, a much better job, and a mansion to live in. At that point, the moral(s) of the film starts to become clear - "success can't make you happy" and/or "nothing can MAKE you happy - people will find a way to be miserable if they want to." Both apply equally to Mark as well as the characters around him. No matter what he tells people that ought to make them happy and cause their problems to go away, they always end up right back where they started again - if they were unhappy, they stay unhappy. There's no magic bullet, no secret. No amount of lying can fix deeper issues.

It wasn't an uproarious comedy, despite the veritable parade of well-known actors and comedians. It had quite a few clever moments and a few that made me chuckle, but mostly it was just funny to watch Gervais try to navigate the uncharted waters of his new discovery. It was also funny to hear both the blunt, cold truths that people would tell, as well as the outlandish lies that Mark came up with. Garner was adorable as always, and Gervais was quite a bit less off-putting than I'm used to seeing him. My wife and I both enjoyed The Invention of Lying and I'd rate it a B+.

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