Friday, March 18, 2011

Short Review: The Invention of Lying (Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson, 2009)

The Invention of Lying marks the directorial debut of Ricky Gervais (Co-creator of BBC's The Office and Extras), sharing the writing and direction duties with Matthew Robinson. It is a largely unsuccessful romantic comedy fueled by the high concept idea that all of the characters live in an alternate reality where nobody has the ability to lie and everything spoken or thought is the absolute truth. In this world people continually make blunt and hurtful statements that would normally be kept to themselves. There exists no concepts of fiction, imagination or speculation, the film and television industry is restricted to lecture-style readings, and there is a complete absence of organized religion.

Mark Bellison (Gervais) is an unsuccessful lecture-film writer whose life is falling apart. He is ridiculed by his colleagues, fired from his job and is evicted from his apartment. Depressed and requiring $800 dollars to cover rent he goes to the bank to close his account and use his remaining money to move. When the teller informs him that the systems are down, he suddenly has an epiphany (an ability to lie) and tells her that he has $800 dollars in his account. Believing him to be telling the truth, she gives him the money. Amazed by his discovery, he begins to test his new ability in various ways, and his life begins to change forever. He manages to prevent his friend Greg (Louis C.K) from being arrested for DUI, he wins a large sum of money at the casino, stops his neighbor (Jonah Hill) from committing suicide and convinces his beautiful last date (Jennifer Garner) to go out with him once again. Life seems to be perfect for Mark, that is until he decides to inform the world about the idea of Heaven.

Overall The Invention of Lying is pretty disappointing. While I didn't know what to expect from Gervais' first attempt at direction, overall it wasn't too bad. Where the film struggled was the maintain the extremity of the idea. It is a clever and inventive idea for a narrative; it draws some early laughs and builds the world quite well. But as the film progresses, the inconsistencies in the concept begin to emerge regularly and the plot quickly unravels, taking a wild detour into an ill-conceived religious satire. Ricky Gervais, whose work on The Office is incredible, is a fantastic comedic performer when reacting to awkward situations and surrounded by other proficient comedic actors. He can turn it into a one-man show, but in the case of The Invention of Lying, the supports are essential to his character. While I enjoyed his improvisation, there was very little chemistry between Gervais and Jennifer Garner, and the romantic angle felt schematic and synthetic. I also enjoyed the small cameos from Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and Edward Norton but Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) and Tina Fey (30 Rock) failed to live up to their immense talents. The jokes become too one-dimensional and the film is transformed into a romantic drama by the conclusion, somewhat unexpected, but far from satisfying. While the clever pokes at religion and the afterlife have their moments I never found myself absorbed in the story or felt any real emotion towards any of the characters. While I guess we were supposed to root for the loser claiming the spoils and winning the girl, the means are so ridiculous that we find ourselves loathing him for his selfish abuse of his 'ability'. Not the quality of comedy we have come to expect from Gervais, I'd recommend checking out Ghost Town instead.

My Rating: 2 Stars 


  1. I didn't rate it as low as 2 stars but didn't give it much higher either. Check out my review of it

    wanna be on each others blog rolls?

  2. This movie is self indulgent, just like Gervais, but that's the Catholic in me talking. I do like the work of the supporting cast though.