The Invention of Lying Review


I remember watching “Ghost Town” in 2008 and thinking, “Is this really the best Ricky Gervais could do?” Granted, he wasn’t responsible for the material, but I don’t think there are many people funnier than the man who created the original “The Office,” and his major film debut was just so ordinary. He had much more involvement (as co-writer and co-director) in his sophomore feature, “The Invention of Lying,” and the results speak for themselves. This is a really clever motion picture, with spit-fire dialogue and a terrific premise. Most of the laughs aren’t gut-busting, but they’ll bring a smile to your face, and although the conclusion is very rushed, I still had a very good time.

The film takes place in a world where everyone must tell the truth. Not only that, but most of the characters have a bad habit of blurting whatever is on their mind. Mark Bellison (Gervais) often is at the brunt of these very forward encounters. He meets a girl, Jennifer (Jennifer Garner), who he likes, but she won’t see him again. She had a good time, but as she so lovingly puts it, she doesn’t want to end up with fat little kids with snub noses. At work (Mark is a screenwriter), he waits everyday to be fired. He knows his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) wants to fire him, but he doesn’t have the courage. When he finally goes ahead with it, Mark doesn’t receive any good wishes from his co-workers. His secretary (Tina Fey) says she hopes to never see him again, and his rival (Rob Lowe) calls him a douche.

About to lose his apartment, Mark goes to the bank to withdraw his remaining assets. But something strange happens. He “says something that’s not.” And this leads to a complete turnaround in Mark’s life. He becomes rich and successful, and Jennifer suddenly loves his company (although she still can’t get over the whole genetics problem). But the lies start to go too far. Soon, he changes human nature and has trouble living with himself for it. And he needs to do some serious damage control to fix his mistakes and win over Jennifer.

“The Invention of Lying” might seem like it is all premise, but it’s more than that. Sure, most of the film’s biggest laughs result from instances of someone saying far too much, but it also has a lot of heart. The scene in which Mark lies to his dying mother is touching, and the film’s climax is genuine.

The film also does something very unexpected and pretty gutsy. Mark essentially invents religion (which has some really interesting and different rules than what we are used to). This leads to what is easily the film’s funniest scene—when Mark essentially comes down from the mountain and reads his version of the Ten Commandments. This was a bold stroke of genius by Gervais. It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from the comedian—the kind of thing that was completely absent from “Ghost Town,” and the kind of thing that was ever-present in his HBO series “Extras.”

The film falters toward the end. When the majority of the humor has been wrung from the premise, Gervais cuts and runs. He wraps things up a little too neatly, to the point of absurdity. But the preceding hour and a half are enjoyable enough that the poor conclusion doesn’t ruin things too much.

The film also features a number of great cameos from very familiar faces. Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill are all hilarious. It’s a testament to Gervais’ genius that so many great comedians signed on to this project. It was one of 2009’s most pleasant surprises, and it has got me very excited for Gervais’ next film.

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