Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Running Time: 1:40
Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual material and a drug reference.
The Invention of Lying was a funny and serious film that hinges a lot on your like/dislike of Ricky Gervais.
The movie takes place in a universe where people do not have the ability to tell lies. In fact, they're mostly compelled to always tell the truth in every situation. Mark is a sad sack screenwriter who goes out on a date with the lovely Anna. Anna is way out of his league and they both know it, but Mark has hopes. Since Anna is nothing but truthful, she tells him that while he's a nice guy, she's looking for someone with the right genes, so her kids won't be pudgy with a weird nose. Mark is then fired from his job and a day away from getting evicted from his apartment. When he goes to the bank to ask for all the money in his account, something happens which allows him to tell the world's first lie. And to his amazement, it works. He's not quite sure what happened, because in their world there are no words for 'truth' and 'lie' but he knows he has an ability that others don't. The question is, will he use it for good, or for evil? And when he tells his dying mother that there is an afterlife, the world suddenly stands up and takes notice.
The Invention of Lying is a quirky little movie. First off, I'm a huge Ricky Gervais fan. I've watched every episode of all his shows a few times over. Even went out and saw his stand-up show at Madison Square Garden. And to this day I still believe The Office (his version) is the greatest show ever made. So I went into this movie with open arms, not realizing that I wasn't going to a comedy about a guy who uses his newfound powers for laughs. What I got was a movie that started off that way, but instead turned into a movie about the birth of religion. See, in this world as there is no such thing as a lie - or rather, there is only truth - there is also no God. And so when Mark tells his mother that when she dies there is a world beyond ours where everyone gets a mansion and people get to see all their loved ones, he inadvertently starts religion. He is overheard by four people, which quickly turns into the world. Since everyone believes everyone else, the immediately believe that what Mark said is the truth. Except now they want to know more and so like Moses on Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments, Mark is now the leader of a new world religion. Except it's a lot harder than he thought it would be, because people are naturally inquisitive and rather than take Mark at his word, ask thousands of questions to clarify. Mark is now forced to determine what is good and what is evil. How many evil things can you do and still go to the "Man in the Sky" as he is referred to. Mark becomes a worldwide celebrity but at the same time he has his own issues to deal with, because the woman he loves, doesn't love him.
The first part of the movie was very funny. The writing is sharp and so the characters truly live in a world where they will say whatever is on their mind, no matter how much it might hurt. When Mark and Anna go on their date, it's amusing to see them interact with the waiter. The waiter hits on Anna, who politely rejects him. The waiter pointedly tells Mark that he's out of her league and Mark can't do anything other than agree with him because he knows it's the truth. It's a bizarre little world because in our world, people tell white lies all the time for the sake of appearances. In their world, you deal with what you have. Even Mark's job is funny because he's a screenwriter, except movies there aren't like movies here. First off, everything is non-fiction since people don't have the ability to make things up. And since it's all about the truth, there aren't actors portaying other people and giving us a visual representation about what might have happened. Instead, you have one person simply reading the screenplay aloud. Mark's job is about the 13th Century so all of his movies are mostly about the Black Plague - until he learns how to lie, and then he comes up with a whopper of a story that garners him worldwide acclaim.
If you're hoping for a movie where Mark will use his newly found powers for evil - sleeping with as many women as possible, making as much money as possible - you may be disappointed. Yes, he does try all that for a short time, but mainly the movie is about him trying to win Anna over. And so even though he could simply lie to her and get her to marry him, he wants her to figure out for herself that love isn't about truth, it's about feelings. And because of that, the second half of the movie becomes much more serious. That's not to say that it doesn't have funny moments, but they're in the middle of much more serious topics. We see Mark struggle to figure out what to tell the world about the afterlife, but he ends up walking outside with his words on two pizza boxes, looking a lot like Moses. And later in the film after spending all of his time in bed, he wakes up looking a lot like Jesus. So the movie has some very serious undertones for the second half of the film and loses a little steam. But all in all it's an interesting concept that works very well because of the actors involved.
Ricky Gervais has his own brand of humor. He's very self-depricating and he brings that to this film. His supporting cast is outstanding. Jennifer Garner is Anna, the beautiful woman who is constantly under pressure from her mother to marry the 'right' person. And that person might just be Brad, one of Mark's co-workers who is much better looking and much more successful. Played by Rob Lowe, Brad is nothing less than a jackass, but a good looking one. Then there are cameos by Tina Fey, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Edward Norton which are a lot of fun. Mark's best friends, played by Louis CK and Jonah Hill, are a lot like Mark's sad sack character but are able to keep him grounded. All in all, it's a great cast that help the film move forward even when it slows down a little.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked The Invention of Lying. It isn't the laugh-out-loud comedy you might expect, but it is funny. And although it tackles some serious issues, it never gets bogged down in them. Definitely worth checking out.