Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Invention Of Lying Is A Surprisingly Smart, Somewhat Erratic, Comedy.

The Good: Starts very funny, Decent acting, Moments of character, Good DVD bonus features
The Bad: Very predictable plot arc, Dramatic change in tone midway through the film.
The Basics: The Invention Of Lying starts as a clever concept comedy, but quickly becomes a very serious, substantive film that leaves little to surprise the audience.

A few months ago, my wife and I had a free hotel stay we were enjoying when we caught the middle and end of The Invention Of Lying. My wife loves comedies and it was nice to see her laugh so much, so we kept watching it. As the movie went on, though, she began to frown and by the end, she was saying what has become a mantra around our house, “I hate it when a movie starts out funny and then gets so serious!” It is probably for that reason that it took until last night for us to get back to The Invention Of Lying. Even so, we started it eagerly, recalling that when we began the movie, it was quite funny.

And that is how The Invention Of Lying goes. It starts out exceptionally funny, has a deliriously satirical twist in the middle and then fails to sustain itself. Instead, the movie collapses into a very serious statement on the nature of reality and the larger consequences that come from living a dishonest existence. The premise of the movie is simple and is deeply related to the setting. The setting is Earth in contemporary times, but on this Earth, everyone always tells the truth. It is a world where absolute honesty exists and the idea of deceit is unfathomable to the people there.

Mark is a writer for the leading movie studio of the day. He is terribly unsuccessful and living in the shadows of Brad Kessler. Mark goes on a date with Anna, who is very much out of his league and who seems amused with him despite not being attracted to him. The next day begins with his arrival at work where his boss, Anthony, finally gets up the will to fire Mark and, dejected, Mark returns to his apartment to a landlord who wants to evict him. He goes to the bank, needing eight hundred dollars, but knowing he only has three hundred in his account. When the teller asks him how much he wants to withdraw, he commits the world’s first lie by saying “eight hundred.” The computers come back up and the teller gives him the eight hundred, despite the computer saying he has three hundred because she assumes there has been a computer error, whatwith the world’s lack of deceit.

From there, Mark realizes the power he has and he begins to lie to make changes to the lives of people around him, from a suicidal tenant living in his apartment to a random man on the street to the police. But after making himself rich and writing the first fiction screenplay, he visits his mother, who is dying in the nursing home and, in comforting her, he inadvertently creates god. This gives Mark an extraordinary amount of power, though he cannot win Anna’s heart. As Anna moves to marry Brad, Mark tries to repair the damage his lies have made to the entire world.

The Invention Of Lying is erratic, but starts very funny. The jokes may all be very similar – people saying simple, complete truths that are outrageously funny – but they work and they establish a world that is funny and occasionally brutal to watch. But with the invention of the man who watches over all things, Mark becomes a huge public figure and his lie changes the tenor of the movie. For sure, the idea that god is just a lie is a brilliant bit of satire and Ricky Gervais as Mark delivers that expertly, but the fallout from that lie makes the movie into a very serious thing.

Beyond that, The Invention Of Lying becomes painfully formulaic in its last half. While the beginning had so much potential, the latter half becomes the predictable romantic comedy in terms of plot structure as Mark realizes how important Anna is to him. The process of watching Anna fall for Mark is far less organic. The attraction there becomes he exact formula that has existed since Jane Eyre (reviewed here!) was first written.

Because so much of The Invention Of Lying hinges on the concept as opposed to the characters, the character development in the film is remarkably low. That is not to say that the characters are not interesting to watch (they are), but they lack a lot in the way of distinction as they service the “must be honest” concept more than create viable individuals on screen.

By contrast, The Invention Of Lying features amazing acting and a cast that is to die for. Jennifer Garner may have been brought in for the sex appeal and star power, but in The Invention Of Lying, she proves just how funny she can be. Jonah Hill, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Tina Fey and Martin Star all have memorable supporting performances. In fact, part of the real surprise in The Invention Of Lying is that Rob Lowe’s role is one of his less memorable ones.

It is Ricky Gervais, however who rules The Invention Of Lying and he is amazing as Mark. His comic timing has never been better and his deliveries are spot on. He makes even the dreadful second half at least seem like it is the same movie.

On DVD, The Invention Of Lying comes loaded with bonus features, most of which take the form of deleted scenes and featurettes. The featurettes are very funny and focus a lot on the actors playing with their innate sense of comic timing, which is very entertaining.

In the end, though, The Invention Of Lying is a much harder sell than those who love comedy are likely to want. It is worth watching, but very hard to want to add to one’s permanent collection.

For other works with Jonah Hill please visit my reviews of:
How To Train Your Dragon
Forgetting Sarah Marshall


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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