18
Oct
2009
Review: The Invention of Lying
The Invention of Lying
Jordan
The premise behind The Invention of Lying is a great one. In a world where no one has ever told a lie, one man discovers the ability and is able to utilize it for personal and professional gains. It provides ample opportunities to look into the benefits and detriments of bending (or in some cases shattering) the truth, and allows for an examination of the role dishonesty plays in our daily lives. Unfortunately, the movie is dragged down by its high concept and never manages to reach either the comedic or the intellectual heights it might have.

The film is centered around Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais, who also co-wrote and co-directed the film) a screenwriter at Lecture films, where movies are made of popular lecturers reading about historical events. In a world without lying there is no such thing as fiction, so the writers are simply assigned centuries to mine for interesting historical details. Ever the sad sack, mark has been assigned to the 13th century, where the only thing that happened is the Black Plague. His movies are failures and he is soon fired, which just compounds his misery at being rejected by his longtime crush Anna (Jennifer Garner). Alone, jobless, and facing eviction, Mark discovers that people will believe anything he says whether it is true or not, and hijinks ensue.

Or rather they should. Instead, the film is bogged down in confusion over its rules and mistaken assumptions about its premise. The simple fact that no one can lie does not mean that everyone on earth would be incredibly stupid. Nor does it mean that people would be predisposed to believe things someone could not possibly know. The inability to lie also does not imply that you must say everything that pops into your head, no matter how socially awkward. Finally, not being able to lie would not turn people into boring, one-dimensional automatons as it seems to in this movie. The film is filled to the brim with cameos by some of my favorite comedians"”Louis CK, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, John Hodgman, Martin Starr and even Phillip Seymour Hoffman all appear and are then simply squandered. After the first scene establishes that these people share every thought they have, each joke is then telegraphed for the rest of the movie (for example, the fact that people will find Ricky Gervais to be overweight and unappealing is obvious from the get go, and each joke that references this actually becomes less humorous as a result).

What started as an excellent idea, with some very clever asides (a Coke commercial that encourages people to drink it because "It's very famous" and a sign on a rest home that reads "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People" both spring to mind) quickly devolves into an uninspired romantic comedy and a pretty predictable exercise in obvious deceptions (like cheating and the development of religion). There's no investment in Mark's love for Anna, because she's basically a robot, but on top of that, she's a robot who does not recognize any of his good qualities as attractive, and simply wants to find the most handsome man to procreate with. This makes her a very unappealing romantic interest, and as the intelligent protagonist at the film's center, Mark's undying love for her feels forced.

The Invention of Lying is a clever idea that never gets beyond clever. The movie would have worked brilliantly as a piece of sketch comedy, but as it stands, its 99 minute runtime feels overly long and meandering, and the plot feels overwrought and somewhat done. Gervais is a charming comedic presence, but the film feels as if he resisted the urge to explore the darker side of his premise. The truth is, the woman he loves finds him unattractive and all of the deceit in the world can't get him what he really wants, but this movie is too determined to be conventional to allow itself to dabble in the sadness that makes the best of Gervais' work (he was the creator and star of the phenomenal British version of The Office and also of Extras) as funny and affecting as it becomes. The movie fails mostly because it tried to fly too close to the sun"”the concept behind it was very high, but somewhere along the way, it lost the realism behind its idea, and it seems that along the way, it forgot to add the funny parts to the comedy.

Grade: C
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