Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying.
The Invention of Lying is a high concept comedy co-written and co-directed by British comedian Ricky Gervais. Gervais shot to prominence following the genius that was The Office and its follow-up Extras. He's also done successful stand-up tours, podcasts and other forms of media. The one form he's yet to crack is motion pictures. While The Invention of Lying has flashes of brilliance, it certainly won't be the film that makes him a movie star.
The concept of the film is that everyone tells the truth. In the film's world no one has ever told a lie before. This sets up some funny, if predictable jokes that mostly involve people being rude to Gervais. If you're thinking that the idea sounds like it would be more suitable for a five minute sketch than a full length film, I have to agree with you. This is mainly because I doubt very much a world in which no one could lie would have evolved into a world so identical to ours except for this one difference.
If you'd seen the previews to this movie then you probably think it's a romantic comedy, since that's what all of the previews focused upon. However, that's only a small part of it. An equally large part of the story involves Gervais, whose character alone develops the ability to tell a lie, uses it to invent religion. It starts as just a way for him to comfort his mother, but soon expands into a full blown religion with the 10 commandants written on the back of two pizza boxes.
It seems that Gervais wants to make a statement about religion using comedy. Unfortunately, the movie's just not funny enough. And the philosophy isn't deep enough, the satire not biting enough and certainly the romantic comedy is third rate. There certainly isn't any sort of chemistry beyond platonic between Gervais and Garner.
The one thing that the movie has plenty of is celebrity cameos. Almost every part is played by a recognizable actor. Unlike Gervais' Extras series though, the cameos serve no purpose beyond a quick moment of recognition laughter. "Hey, that's Edward Norton playing that cop!" Of all the cameos, Tina Fey makes the most of hers as Gervais's condescending assistant.
Not that there aren't some funny moments. Gervais has great comic timing and his reactions are the cause of the some the funniest laughs. It's not the insults others hurl at his character that make you laugh, but rather his reaction to them. There just aren't enough funny moments for the length of the film.
Both The Office and Extras contained some sharp, biting wit and that's what brought Gervais his success. I can't help but think that until he brings that same level of humor to a film script, he's never going to make it in Hollywood.
A marriage sanctified by pizza boxes.
The message of The Invention of Lying is that sometimes a lie is good, or comforting. It says that knowing the truth can hurt, and as such lies have a purpose. This movie offends millions of people of every religion. It very clearly says that religion is a lie. Gervais does not dismiss religion with a brief joke or an aside, he goes on and on about how stupid people seem who believe in it. I know this is a different world, but as Scott wrote, other than the lies, this world is an exact replica of ours.
Although this film may be offensive to people of religion, the worst crime is that the lead character is a bore. He knows what his girlfriend thinks of him, yet he still wants her. She tells him constantly that she is not attracted to him, yet he pointlessly lives the lie that she may somehow change her mind. What man could love a woman who has looked him in the eye and stated honestly that she has absolutely no interest in ever procreating with him? The fact that he still wants her, makes him a pathetic character, that I had no interest in rooting for.
With such a worthless lead character, I had little interest on how the film turned out. Some scenes were funny, such as Fey insulting Gervais. Some scenes were merely odd, such as when Garner announces her masturbation. The Invention of Lying tries to say something about truth in a funny way, but ends up being a little offensive, and somewhat boring.
Photos © Copyright Focus Features (2009)