Lowdown: In a world of truth sayers, the liar can be king (for a while).
I like Ricky Gervais; I think I’ve covered this point sufficiently enough in the past to avoid discussing it again here. What I will say, though, is that one of the reasons I like Gervais is that he and I share many opinions. In particular, we are both atheists who are not shy about the views that we hold. The difference between us? Simple: Gervais is in a position to create atheist state of mind films whereas I have to settle with reviewing them. Case in point: The Invention of Lying.
Like his previous effort, Ghost Town, Gervais’ The Invention of Lying (which he also co-directed) is another easy going romantic comedy with a science fiction like twist to it. This time around the twist is to do with the world the movie is set, a world where humans did not evolve the ability to tell a lie. That is, until Gervais’ character gets itself into a desperate situation.
Gervais, we quickly learn, is a forty something, not so good looking and not so successful at his profession of choice. He has his aspirations, though: he really wants to have a go at a relationship with Jennifer Garner’s character: a good looking and professionally successful woman that managed to get to where she is by not asking too many questions and by being risk averse. Things don’t work out well for Gervais: Garner doesn’t give him a second chance, work fires him, and his home owner evicts him. What can he do? He lies, a world first; and immediately he becomes the world’s most powerful man, as rich as he wants to be, and – quickly enough – the prophet of the world’s first religion. But will all of these get Gervais the things he really needs?
The idea behind The Invention of Lying is nice: a world where no lie has ever been told is a world of endless joke opportunities, mostly aimed at the incredible number of ways lies are being told to us real world people straight in the face and the incredible way in which we need these lies to maintain our civilization. Sadly, though, the film stretches the point: it is one thing not to tell a lie and a completely different thing for characters to go on and volunteer inconvenient truths about themselves at point convenient to the film. It’s sad, because the film seems to dwell on the latter rather than the former. Personally, I would consider the first world wittier and more consistent with the premises. I also consider the film’s choice rather sad, because there is a lot of wisdom in exposing the way lies provide the energy for much of humanity’s endeavors and the way these falsely based endeavours are getting us humans up to no good.
Perhaps through the intention to provide a thought provoking film, as per its agenda of asking questions and thinking things for yourself, The Invention of Lying seems almost subdued in its humor. From time to time it gracefully throws a meaty joke at us, but most of its time – perhaps too much of its time – is spent on the drama. Yet even while doing so the drama part still has its weaknesses, especially when it comes to answering the basic question of why Gervais is interested in the rather shallow Garner in the first place.
Best scene: Advertising in a world where no lie can be told is really cool, in particular the ads for Coke and Pepsi. I wonder if those brand names really agreed to have the stuff that is said about them told the way it is or whether litigation threats were involved.
Technical assessment: A pretty mediocre Blu-ray with average picture and a way too mundane sound.
Overall: A smart and overall calmly entertaining comedy that pulls its punches so much it prevents itself from being a real gem. 3 out of 5 stars.