It’s no surprise that Ricky Gervais would come out with a movie about lying. The English comic, who brought us shows such as “The Office” and “Extras,” has made a career out of showing us the awkward underbelly of society in its efforts to hide, distort and wish away the truth.
The Invention of Lying plays with the same idea, but in expected Gervais fashion, the film grounds itself in a sentimentality that challenges viewers to question how we judge the world and what we deem to be and not to be.
Where the potential for comedy thrives in the idea of one liar in a world of truth, the social setting is not one primed for side-splitting antics.
The film is set on an earth where lying does not exist. In fact, fabrication of any sort is out of the picture, and society’s only concerns are with what it defines as the truth. Fat people, people without jobs, poor people—they’re all seen as “losers” (a term that comes up many times throughout the film) who have little potential to succeed and therefore become invisible to those who are rich, attractive, powerful or talented.
Twenty minutes into the film, it is clear that the world of the “truth” is quite depressing. This is not just for the fact that what people say to each other is harsh and blunt (what makes up for most of the comedy of the film), but it’s that everything coming out of people’s mouths is a negative—a put down, a sad piece of their lives, a pessimistic, self-hating mantra that works to bring down the audience instead of make us laugh.
Society’s inability to fabricate seems coupled with their inability to care. That’s not to say that merely niceties and forced complements are absent: care in any form is hard to come by.
In one scene, Mark Bellison (Gervais) visits his mom after being insulted and rejected by his previous night’s date and tells her he suspects that he may lose his job. He expresses how he has little hope for the future, that he has no money, no prospects and little to look forward to, and she shrugs him off.
“Things could be worse,” she says. “We could be homeless.”
This of course is followed by Bellison getting evicted, which pushes him to the end of his wits.
About midway through the film, after Bellison discovers lying, the narrative takes an odd turn and begins to give its own take on Christianity and the Ten Commandments when Bellison tells the world of how there is a “man in the sky” who dictates what happens to people when they die.
In dangerous criticism of Christianity and religion in general, The Invention of Lying depicts a society that relies too heavily on what others think and say and believe, and relates how that attitude reflects our own culture’s misuse of what started as a mere story, a fabrication, of what governs our existence.
In a telling scene near the end of the film, Bellsion is accosted from behind and, upon requesting an admittance of fault, is met with further disrespect and rejection of compassion. Despite the fact that this society knows now to be good and kind and understanding, its view of the world has not changed in the least.
This allegorical backdrop is the film’s most interesting aspect, as the cheeky, improv-style comedy and awkward romance fail to deliver. It’s disappointing to see Gervais, who shared writing and directing credit with Matthew Robinson, not live up to what we’re all used to even surrounded by a star-studded cast with cameos by Jason Bateman (Extract), John Hodgman (“The Daily Show”), Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), Edward Norton (everything) and Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap).
The Invention of Lying is the result of a good idea warped and faded, with its situational comedy too dreary to be funny, but not enough so to come out the other end as a more dramatic, yet entertaining, creation.