The Invention of Lying
Director: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Writer: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., Tina Fey
I have to admit I had high hopes for this film. I adore Ricky Gervais, and the cast is pretty stacked. The plot, which is essentially the inverse of Liar Liar sounded like it could be a really funny premise. I never got around to seeing it in theatres, but with it now on DVD I was able to see it already knowing that it got very mixed reviews. I really wanted to like it but in the end I had to side with the critics who said it just wasn’t that good. There’s some funny moments and some AWESOME cameos, but overall the movie just doesn’t do much for me.
In case you didn’t know, The Invention of Lying follows the story of Mark Bellison (Gervais playing Gervais), a short, pudgy screenwriter who lives in an alternate reality where lying doesn’t exist. They don’t even have the words ‘lie’ or ‘truth’ in this world. In fact, the term ‘screenwriter’ is simply used to note historians in this world as fabricating stories doesn’t exist either. Everyone is completely honest and often reveals more info than people ask for, which is essentially where most of the comedy comes from (again, think Liar Liar). Suddenly, Bellison develops the ability to lie, and because of the world they live in, everyone accepts what he says as truth. He takes this newfound ability and at first does it for personal gain, but also realizes he can help people with it (telling his neighbor he shouldn’t kill himself, helping a homeless man, etc). All the while he is pursuing the woman of his dreams, Anna (Garner) who won’t be in a relationship with him because his genetics would create little fat children with snub noses.
The plot takes a different turn, however, when Bellison goes to visit his mother in the hospital and she confesses how terrified she is that she’s going to die. To try to ease her pain, Bellison lies to her and essentially creates the idea of heaven. It’s actually a very powerful scene and probably my favorite part in the movie. Of course, the doctors and nurses hear his story of heaven and eventually, Bellison is swarmed by people eager to learn more about what happens after you die. He is lenient at first but eventually creates the idea of a ‘man in the sky’ and how he controls everything.
The problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be: religious satire, subversive comedy, or traditional romantic comedy. The majority of the film revolves around Bellison and Anna’s relationship, but due to the world created for comedic effect and the people that inhabit it, there’s no way to relate to Anna’s character and her dilemma (marry for love or for genetics). Bellison’s character is the only one that acts ‘human’ and not like a truth telling robot and because of that any romance or chemistry between the two of them is hard to believe. On the other hand, the religious satire is very effective at first (he created heaven to ease his mother’s fear of dying, the scene where he tells everyone about the man in the sky and the questions asked because of it) but it’s only present for a few scenes and then it’s tossed to the side in favor of the romance plot. It makes any satire on religion less effective and more gimmicky.
I hate to keep using Liar Liar as a comparison but it’s the easiest way to get this next point across. In that film, Jim Carrey is the one who can’t lie, and everyone else can. Because of this, he is met with hardship, he learns about himself and much comedy comes from his inability to lie in the real world. Invention of Lying subverts this, and makes EVERYONE unable to lie so it’s the norm; and when Mark Bellison learns how to lie he becomes god-like and can get pretty much anything he wants. This isn’t a good way to write a comedy! Granted there are still some funny moments mostly due to Gervais’ innate ability to be awkward, but having the protagonist the normal one and everyone else abnormal just makes things boring. Also, while there are plenty great cameos and cast members, not many of them got much opportunity to, well, be funny.
I still think Gervais is a brilliant writer and I think he had some good intentions with this film, but it missed the mark for me. I would have liked to see the religious satire go a bit further, and less gimmicky, and made it less of a boring old rom-com. But I look forward to his next project with an eager and open mind.