If you were the only person in the world who could lie, what would you do? This is the question that Ricky Gervais attempts to answer in his new comedy, the Invention of Lying. A film that squarely sits in the Bruce Almighty form of giving an obscene amount of world changing power to one man, and then watching the fun.
The setup for the movie is that the world exists exactly as ours does with one exception. No one can lie. Not just that no one can lie, but that the very idea, the construct of a lie, does not exist. Everyone always tells the truth, and it would seem (though it’s never explained) can’t help themselves from actively saying out loud everything they are thinking at the exact moment the thought occurs. Ricky Gervais character Mark Bellison eventually figures out that he in fact can lie (though it’s never explained how that occurs either). The rest of the film involves Mark attempting to change his rather “sad and loser like” life through the use of lies to among other things, snag the girl of his dreams played by Jennifer Garner.
While the plot itself isn’t all that complicated, some of the mechanics of how lying works and how/when people can tell if it’s the truth or a lie do get a bit convoluted and don’t really hold up if you bother to think about them for more than a few moments. Luckily, you’ll probably be laughing too much to bother with it.
The setting and detail in this movie is one of its hallmarks. Everything from the hilarious Coke and Pepsi advertisements, to how retirement homes are marked brings added layers of comedy. It’s also just as interesting to see that without lying, what other social constructs and institutions that we seem to take for granted also do not exist.
This rich atmosphere helps to support the terrific writing work done by Gervais and fellow writer/director Matthew Robinson. The bluntness of not being able to lie leads to some very funny conversations regarding the inner thoughts of many characters and their feelings toward others, mostly directed at Gervais’ Bellison. Gervais shows his unique comedic timing and presence through terrific physical expression and those wonderful little mumbling quips that are his trademark.
One of the strongest parts of the movie are the great cameos from all sorts of Hollywood stars. They come up at wonderful and surprising moments and each is better than the last. Fans of some of Gervais other work like Extras will be pleased by the appearance of an actor who plays one of the shows more popular characters.
The set design, art direction and overall production values are extremely high but the camera and directing work is unremarkable. Scenes for the most part seem to be constructed merely as “place camera there and follow Gervais”. Not that this is a bad thing at all, and the movie hinges so much on the writing and the jokes that the straightforward camera work isn’t that much of a hindrance. The movie also suffers from several instances where a musical like montage takes over. One in particular early in the film when Bellison is traveling around town trying to help people and improve their lives by telling them lies. This would seem to be an interesting scene and provide more opportunities for jokes from Gervais, but instead we can’t hear any dialogue as the visuals are merely dubbed over with music. Aside from taking us out of the experience of the film, they just don’t work. A more discerning directorial eye might have helped in shortening and better managing these scenes.
The Invention of Lying while another showcase for Ricky Gervais and his incredible comedic talent falls just short greatness. Uneven pacing because of musical interludes and a feeling that at times some of the actors are merely rambling off their lines without any sort of direction great some hindrances and hiccups. But overall the film provides plenty of laughs and sight gags to keep the audience engaged throughout.
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