It’s very rare for a high-concept comedy to work on a consistent level. Often, the movie is only funny in concept and only contains enough successful jokes to string together an amusing trailer. This is not the case with Ricky Gervaisâ€™ (co-creator of The Office) co-directorial debut, The Invention of Lying.
While watching, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day. Both stories involve individuals who stumble upon a special ability and proceed to go through the natural stages any omniscient being might: exploitation for personal gain, assisting those in need, and then, ultimately, solving personal romantic struggles.
The Invention of Lying takes place in a world in which lying isnâ€™t just non-existent, but also completely unfathomable. People tell each other exactly what they think, which leads to some very scathing insults at the expense of Gervaisâ€™ character, Mark Bellison. Not only do all the characters treat one another with the most brutal form of honesty, but also advertisements and signage follow the same rule (an honest TV commercial for Coke may be the funniest part of the movie).
What makes Lying work is the consistency with which the theme is followed. Most movies such as this would play like nothing more than a series of over-extended sketches. This is not to say that this film doesnâ€™t occasionally do just that, but rather that the film is so earnest that all the vignettes add up to mean something more.
With this film, we have a protagonist that is a bald-faced liar. The very fact that all the other characters, including the antagonists, are honest just makes the audience root for Mark that much more. It is truly a testament to cinemaâ€™s ability to set its own rules that a film like this can portray those that are honest as such dastardly people.
From a young age, we are all taught that a lie, even the smallest one, is harmful and wrong. Yet in this movie, Markâ€™s nemesis Brad Kessler (dryly played by a spectacled Rob Lowe) comes across as such an ass precisely because he doesnâ€™t lie about his feelings. Jennifer Garnerâ€™s Anna falls for Brad because she canâ€™t deny both a physical attraction to him and revulsion for Mark.
The film also plays as an allegory for anyone who has ever been frustrated by societyâ€™s overall willful ignorance. The film takes a not so subtle swipe at religion while still upholding the general importance that faith can have when used for good. Perhaps blasphemous to some is the idea that society would have no belief in God if it also didnâ€™t have the lie.
Not everything about this movie is perfect. Gervais and co-director Matthew Robinson show a slight stiffness behind the camera at times. The entire concept of the story is predicated on the idea that without the ability to lie, nearly everyone is also superficial and gullible. Obviously, we canâ€™t test the concept, so youâ€™ll just have to go along with it.
This movie is not for everyone. Tonally, itâ€™s very dry — and, at times, sober. Fans of The Office wonâ€™t necessarily appreciate the metaphorical approach it takes. Occasionally, the celebrity cameos are a bit distracting and under-utilized. However, certain viewers will find here a clever movie that strives to take advantage of its concept for more than just clever jokes. At its heart, the most important point The Invention of Lying makes is to demonstrate the effectiveness of well-intentioned honesty.
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