Quickie Review: Invention of Lying

Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais share an awkward moment.

Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais share an awkward moment.

I am always happy to see comedies come out in first-run theaters that are not “mainstream.” I know, I know, Ricky Gervais’ new movie, The Invention of Lying is being released by Warner Bros, but just because it’s not being produced by the Guys Who Brought You Knocked Up, I’ll call it indie. And for that reason, I expect a bit more. The laughs should be genuine, the funny should be a step above pot humor, and the set-ups should be intelligent. Unfortunately, The Invention of Lying has none of these things.

But it does have a great concept. As everyone from Creative Screenwriting to my girlfriend has pointed out, the idea that mankind has never developed the capacity to lie is a juicy idea. There are so many angles you can take to explaining and understanding this universe. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Gervais simply stumbling around in truth-town is funny. There are great moments; the main character, Mark (Gervais) turns on the television and sees a Coke spokesman explain that his product is basically “sugar water” but nevertheless “you should buy it.” A man comes on next who instead of telling a story, lectures. A panicky Anna (Jennifer Garner) tells Mark as they are about to go on a date that she isn’t that into him and he can’t even expect a kiss. Mark’s boss Anthony (Jeffrey Tambor), another honest Abe, explains to Mark he is being fired sometime soon, but he doesn’t have the will-power to do it. Mark’s life stinks, and it takes the lying gene to fix it.

Yet the movie does not move past this excellent concept and these very funny first moments. The expansive universe Gervais crafts in the first five minutes never encompasses anything other than Mark’s mawkish attempts to win Anna. Sure, there’s a tangent about religion, and Mark does become a prophet for a few moments, but this movie that should be Monty Python absurd to its very core, does very little with a great idea. What happens to politics if candidates cannot lie? What about the stock market—who’s buying all of those shares on credit? Would credit cards even exist? Keep going on that religious bent, Ricky, and make Mark a martyr! Give us a hint that you have entirely thought through this concept.

Gervais needed to make the plot live up to the beauty of the premise and in this he fails. As of now, instead of answers about the honestiverse we learn about Mark and Anna’s relationship. We see on screen a vanilla story about a vanilla town and a vanilla palette of humor that doesn’t extend to much else than Mark’s self-deprecatory humor. Another pet peeve: the characters’ version of truth telling seems nasty and mean, and while the truth may be hard to take, for society to function can people really be that boorish and get away with it?

When I need my cinematic truth fix I’ll stick with Liar Liar, which admittedly is not as high-concept, but has a premise that could take an hour and a half to explain, and about as long to mine the humor. During this movie, I kept looking to find my own convenient lie to leave the theater early.

3 responses to “Quickie Review: Invention of Lying

  1. Disappointing news. Gervais is such a monster talent. Looks like it’s Netflix for this one.

    • Yes–I know. I read the first four pages of the screenplay in Creative Screenwriting and it sounded really funny, too!

  2. Aw, I’m sorry to hear this was disappointing, because I agree: it’s a fantastic concept!

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