October 3, 2009
Review - " The Invention of Lying " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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The idea becomes amusing when the rejected date, a nebbish named Mark Bellison (co-writer/director Ricky Gervais),
stumbles upon the notion that bending the truth has benefits. Something goes ping in Mark's brain, and he commits the
radically innovative act of telling an untruth: he instantly makes $500 profit as a bank teller hands over more money than
Mark has in his account. "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king". Like-wise in a world where no one ever tells an
untruth anything you say will automatically be believed, 100%, without question. He finds that his new technique can even
bag him sex: an incredibly beautiful woman believes his claim that the world will end if they don't have sex immediately. The
film tries to cement Mark's place as a good-guy by having him not go through with using this woman. Come on now - show of
hands - how many of us not so great looking guys aren't going to use our new found power to basically bang every girl who
ever turned us down? Come on, how many? No one? I thought so.
Mark is such a kind and generous person that lying soon ceases to be self-serving and becomes a creative, generous
activity. Seemingly the only compassionate man alive, Mark starts telling fibs to make people feel better about life and
death. Mark's tales sound a lot like what people hear in church; a man in the sky who you can't see controls when people
live well, suffer and die. After death, there's a happy place where everyone gets a mansion and meets dearly departed
friends. That is, unless you do enough bad things in a lifetime to go somewhere else Mark hasn't made up yet. Before long
is holding a crowd enthralled with his preposterous gospel about a Man in the Sky who decides all our fates. Engaging in
theological debate, people at last develop a sense of contradiction: why is it that the Man in the Sky rewards some, torments
others? "So he's kind of a good guy, but kind of a prick too?" the crowd puzzles.
The masses are a gullible lot. They've never heard such ideas before, unconcerned that Mark scribbles them on pizza
boxes like Moses' commandment tablets. Does that mean, in the movie's logic, that religion isn't true? Could be, and that's
enough to offend some viewers. But the movie regularly suggests that lying, or believing lies, is how people flourish in a
world where truth can be debilitating.
That's heady stuff for an otherwise fluffy, slightly edgy romantic comedy. Invention of Lying becomes a rare comedy with
serious implications. All this is not only witty, but also courageous in a mainstream American comedy – and it's Gervais's
Englishness that lets him get away with it. Mark's status as an absolute outsider – the liar as the only lucid man – goes hand
in hand with the presentation of him as a fish-out-of-water Brit, scorned by, but essentially superior to, all those gullible
superficial Yanks. Because of the emphasis on Mark's/Gervais's character, the film comes across not only as a satire about
truth and lies but equally as Gervais's own commentary on America as heartless and infantile. Mark Bellison may be pitched
as someone whom the world merely tolerates, but Gervais's manner makes it clear that really the entire world is the fool that
he doesn't suffer gladly.
The satire is mitigated throughout by a romantic strand in which Mark tries to woo the beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner), who
likes him but sees him as pudgy, snub-nosed, inferior genetic material. Buoyed by Jennifer Garner's charm as Mark's object
of desire when Anna announces, "I'm out of your league," you tend to concede she has a point.
Ricky Gervais is quickly becoming one of my
favorite comic actors and his dry brittish
humour certainly doesn't fail here. This is an
ingenious film that makes you chuckle, rather
than gasp at its audacity, and you'd have to
be a rabid fundamentalist to take anything like
the offence that such a film should be capable
of causing. And its life-affirming conclusion,
tart though it is, plays right into the hands of
the pious. Bet you anything there are
preachers out there welcoming "The Invention
of Lying" as a parable of how even an
unreconstructed liar must finally embrace faith
and family values – honest to God. Stick with
the early, easy material and enjoy clever
cameos by Edward Norton, Jason Bateman
and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Think hard about
what "The Invention of Lying" does with its
second act allegory. You'll probably enjoy the
final act more than it would otherwise deserve.
Would I lie to you?
The Invention of Lying
Direted by: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey,
"The Invention of Lying" begins with a throwaway premise in which
everyone tells the unmitigated truth. A first date immediately tanks
when a woman declares her escort too homely to get serious about.
An ad for Coca-Cola proclaims its fame is the only reason to buy it -
"It's basically just brown sugar water". Nursing homes are renamed
"a sad place for hopeless old people."
The truth hurts sometimes but it's all this alternate universe knows.
Ricky Gervais's satire of America has a clever concept - only one
person in the world is capable of lying.
The premise is neat. The setting is an alternative version of our world,
in which it has never occurred to anyone to tell a lie. Consequently
everyone is brutally honest all the time. "Oh, your baby is so ugly,"
smiles a woman at a new parent, Then along comes the very first liar:
Gervais plays Mark Bellison, whose screenwriting job yields the film's
most eccentric and inspired joke. If there's no lying, then there's no
fiction either, so Hollywood specialises in historical lectures by dry
professors in leather armchairs (Christopher Guest, in one of the film's
several gratuitous cameos).