In his Hollywood directorial debut, Ricky Gervais takes us to an alternate universe where honesty makes the world go round. It's not just that lie-telling is an impossibility; everyone can't help but speak their minds at all times, no matter how personal, embarrassing, or brutal their innermost thoughts may be. The premise of The Invention of Lying is rife for comedy, but the film is also a commentary on religion and has its sad moments as well.
The film tells the story of Mark Bellison, an average joe who just can't seem to get ahead in a world where his mediocrity is ridiculed day after day. His co-workers can't stand him and women reject him based on his looks alone. When he loses his job as a screenwriter, Mark is ready to give up — until he mysteriously becomes the world's first liar.
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Ricky Gervais stars as Mark, living in a world that's mostly free of flair, frills, and aesthetics. Mark's house and office are plain and boring, complementing his every-day appearance. Those who stand out are the people who are naturally attractive, like the object of Mark's affections, Anna (Jennifer Garner) and his snarky co-worker Brad (Rob Lowe). Anna can't help but show her shallow side on her first date with Mark. She immediately rejects him on the basis that she doesn't want to have "fat, snub-nosed" children someday and must find a "better genetic match." Once Mark starts to stretch his newfound talent though, he decides he can have whatever he wants — and begins a quest to win Anna's affections.
Gervais surprised me with his performance because he finally takes a break from his typical British dry humor. As affable, down-on-his-luck Mark, Gervais proves that he doesn't need his signature sarcasm to be witty. The most important scene of the movie requires a lot of raw emotion from Gervais, and he absolutely nails it, showcasing a sweet side that we rarely see from the actor.
There are two major aspects of the movie that wore me down: the cameos and the product placement. I love a good celebrity appearance, but after Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ed Norton, and Jason Bateman pop in, it starts to feel like Gervais is trying to use his comical buddies to keep the storyline afloat when it starts to lose focus. Seeing a familiar face is always fun, but this isn't a Judd Apatow movie.
The product placement is funny and fitting at first; there's not much room for advertising in a world of stark truth. With only a reputation to rely on, Coke and Pepsi are left with the slogans "It's very famous" and "When they don't have Coke," respectively. The film goes way overboard from there though, and suddenly Mark is surrounded by Budweiser bottles at all times and at the film's climax he's standing in front of a group clutching a pair of cardboard Pizza Hut boxes.
The movie's biggest problem is that it tries to appeal to too many genres. It's packaged as a comedy, but Mark becomes a god-like character once the world gets wind of his lies. His peers literally take everything he says as gospel, and Mark becomes a blatant modern-day Moses (complete with long hair and beard). Just as the audience begins to wonder where it's all going, the movie quickly ditches the religious aspect and finishes up as a love story. The ending is satisfactory, but what's the point of satirizing religion when it doesn't hold much water for the overall message of the movie?
Like I said, the premise is rife for comedy and starts us down a path that's packed with laughs — I just wish Invention of Lying didn't wander off before finding its way back home.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.