Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Invention of Lying - Sweet and Funny, But Flawed

Invention of Lying

Review by Patrick Hodges

Imagine if humanity had evolved without the ability to lie.  About anything.  Only the (often horribly brutal) truth, 100% of the time, without even the filtering system that allows most people in our society to keep ugly truths to ourselves.  Well, such a world is the setting for The Invention of Lying, co-written, co-directed and starring British funnyman Ricky Gervais.

The inability to lie has many societal effects that you might expect:  there is no philosophy, no religion, no creativity.  There is also no fiction:  movies are simply dramatic recitations of historical facts.  Enter Mark Bellison (Gervais), who loses his job after failing to write provocative scripts regarding the era he was assigned – the 13th century (which was pretty much known for the Black Plague and little else).  Being middle-aged, portly and not particularly handsome, he also has singularly failed to win over a woman named Anna (Jennifer Garner), for whom he has had strong feelings for some time.

Then, the incredible happens: a synapse in Mark’s brain misfires, and he is able to tell “the world’s first lie”.  And in a world where everyone believes everything you say, Mark takes full advantage, concocting an ever-more-outrageous series of whoppers in order to reverse the crappy hand life dealt him.

But it’s in the second act that Invention gets interesting:  faced with the imminent death of his beloved mother, Mark tries to give comfort to her by fabricating the concept of an afterlife, a heaven, and a being he calls “the man in the sky”.  And oh, the can of worms that that opens up…  Soon, everyone on Earth is looking to him, asking questions that had never even been conceived of before.

If the film had continued to go in that direction, steering society in a direction that could have changed the course of history, the ending might have been one of the most thought-provoking of the year.  But at its heart, Invention of Lying is simply a love story, as Mark tries with all his might to convince Anna that he can make her happy despite his frumpy genetic makeup.  This takes up most of the third act, and it causes the story to lose most of its momentum.

There are more than a few places where the film was uproariously funny.  Brutal honesty can be quite comedic (just imagine the advertising…), and Gervais, playing a slightly-less-clueless version of his character on the British version of The Office, is really fun in the role.  Almost as amusing are the hysterical cameo appearances from a lot of well-known actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton and Jason Bateman.

Invention of Lying, in the end, had the potential to be something truly deep and insightful, a satiric mirror of a world very much like our own.  But it went instead for the Hollywood ending, and I left the theater amused, but somehow unfulfilled. 

3 / 5 stars

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