The Invention of Lying

October, 2009, Comedy

Directed by:Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

Starring:Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, with Rob Lowe, Edward Norton, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tina Fey

 

 

 

British writer/director/comedic actor Ricky Gervais is an acquired taste; you either find his off-hand, supposedly self-deprecating humor amusing or a bit too arch for repeated exposure. The creative force behind the television series “The Office” (an Americanized version of his original English series), Gervais loves to skewer his targets with a mock-serious attitude towards what he regards as the more ludicrous elements of contemporary life. When he’s good, he’s amusing; when he’s not, troubling irritation invariably follows.

 

Lying is a one-concept film and for its first half hour, manages to amuse and provoke with equal force. Gervais plays Mark Bellison, screenwriter for a hit television series devoted to historical epochs in a world where everyone always - - and compulsively - - tells the truth, with no sugar coating. As Mark is barraged with overly candid abuse from his boss, secretary, colleagues and members of the opposite sex alike, the advantages of well-intentioned prevarication and rectitude are presented in a very amusing fashion. Everything from television cola ads to chance conversations in office elevators demonstrates that, for much of life, we’re neither prepared to tell the truth nor willing to hear it in return. So far, so good.

 

But 30 minutes do not a full-length feature movie make; in order to stretch his conceit, Gervais creates a plot which features a lie to his dying mother that’s intended to ease her final moments; he insists that a wonderful afterlife awaits her and that he’s gotten that information from “The big man in the sky”. The storyline then devolves into a snide, condescending examination of religious belief (the 10 commandments displayed on the back a pair of empty take-out pizza boxes?) as the increasingly harassed Bellison lies his way into great wealth, prominence and the affections of Anna McDoogles (a stunning Jennifer Garner) whose spent much of the early moments of the film devastating him with candid comments on his various inadequacies.

 

As it grinds its way to a predictably happy conclusion, Lying becomes a self-congratulatory paean to Gervais while also equating honesty with simple mindedness; as Bellison becomes ever more adept at dissimulation, everyone around him - - friend, foe and would-be lover alike - - loses the glow of attractive naivety, acquiring instead a sheen of numbing stupidity. That gives the writer and actor in Gervais the chance to make his character nobler than those around him, elevating the moral worth of his well-intentioned lies above the mean-spirited truths uttered by everyone else in the cast. By the end of the film’s over-long 100 minute running time, the score is predictable; Gervais’ character is a winner and everyone else a loser.

 

As a director, Gervais has a lot to learn; the sets, cinematography and art direction have a deliberately amateurish look, which may reflect Gervais’ desire to pass off this effort as a fairy tale, but the end result is a movie which merely looks defiantly slapdash, as if to suggest that its creator sought yet another opportunity to poke his audience in the eye. Despite a few clever “guest appearances” (especially those featuring Tina Fey and Ed Norton) this comedy begins with bright promise, sags under the weight of its own self-satisfied conceits and collapses in a finale of overwhelming schmaltz.

 

The Verdict? Catch the first 15 minutes on pay-per-view television and skip the rest.

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