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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 8.33%
Average: 5.56%
Pretty Bad: 22.22%
Total Crap: 19.44%

3 reviews, 18 user ratings

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Invention of Lying, The
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by Erik Childress

"You Want The Truth? Ricky Gervais Is Your Man."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The word “lie” carries along with it such a negative connotation. Leave the obvious definition we would jump to off the table and you are still left with a word associated with either resting or quitting. When actually the word is all about not giving in or giving up just to satisfy someone’s quest for what they think they want to hear. How many times as a child or a significant other have we heard the variation on telling the truth leading to the suffocation of anger. Honesty is the best policy? Whatever happened to what you don’t know won’t hurt you? One of the many brilliant concepts in Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson’s new film, The Invention of Lying, is that they don’t have a word for the new brainstorm discovered. They just know that despite the occasional moral speed bump of a mistruth, in the hands of the right person it can be an emisary to make this world a better place. Ricky Gervais is that right person and The Invention of Lying deserves to take its place as a modern American comedy classic right alongside such worthy counterparts as Groundhog Day and Idiocracy.

Taking place in an alternate universe where everyone takes a blunt approach to conversing with their fellow human beings, in this world even compliments come off as the kind of selfishly insensitive rhetoric that gets drinks thrown in your face. Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) hasn’t heard many of those. Even on a blind date with the svelte beauty, Anna (Jennifer Garner), he’s bombarded with the knowledge that she doesn’t think he’s attractive, there will be no sex and certainly no second date. The “chubby, snub-nosed” Mark isn’t respected at work where he’s a screenwriter for true-life historical events read out loud to the audience. Since fiction doesn’t exist, actors can’t very well pretend to be someone else can they? Mark discovers from top rival, Brad (Rob Lowe) and Shelley (Tina Fey), the secretary who has always believed she was better than him, that he’s about to be fired and later that he’s about to be evicted. With only $300 in the bank, Mark comes upon the epiphany to swing the advantage in his favor.

Once he’s set his mind around the idea that nothing is stopping him from fudging the truth, Mark is amazed how easily it is to fool everyone, even briefly convincing his barfly friend, Greg (Louis C.K.), that he’s a black eskimo. With his life turning around, thanks in no small part to creating the most fantastical “non-fiction” film ever concocted, Mark is able to slowly get back in the good graces of Anna, who is temporarily able to substitute success for looks. Mark’s celebrity status as a writer though cannot compare to what’s in store for him after he offers some bedside wisdom to his sickly mother (Fionnula Flanagan); on-the-spot comfort food that catches the imaginative curiosity of a public that has all the immediate answers except for what happens after you die.

The Invention of Lying was already well on its way to being a high concept for the ages that wasn’t fumbled at the outset or short on ideas of how to tweak its premise. This midsection detour in Mark’s journey though is where skeptics and true believers should be able to come together in acknowledgment that Gervais and Robinson have bridged a gap between scathing satire and being eternal humanists. Reactionary types may feel a little uneasy at the conclusions being drawn, but the film is not intent on mocking them or their beliefs. Admitted atheist Gervais understands the need for those to placate their fears in body and soul and would rather rib the ones with either a lack of creative thinking or who don’t understand how to treat their fellow man without fear of damnation. The centerpiece comic sequence where Mark lays out his newfound knowledge to the gathered is every bit as brilliant as George Carlin’s dissection of the Ten Commandments and launches the film into the kind of subtle food-for-thought territory for both sides of the debate tackled in last year’s Religulous. And does so while providing some of the biggest laughs of the year.

This is not preaching to the converted or trying to alienate the subsection of viewers devoted to their worship. While this is a cloud that turns into a fog for the film’s second half, Gervais and Robinson never abandon the greater truth of their comedy which is the positives in exaggeration, flattery and delaying the inevitable darkness of honesty when its not what we want to hear. During his stint as a 21st century Obi-Wan Kenobi (who once said “Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?”) using his new Jedi mind trick on all-too-trusting folk yet to discover cynicism, Mark never forgets to maintain his own genuine goodness. Who among us wouldn’t take advantage of the ways to garner easy sex? As Mark indicates in key moments though, without believing in your own feelings, that version of the truth wouldn’t really count.

Any fan of Ricky Gervais (and if you aren’t, why not?) knows full well his ability to skewer the absurd and his fearlessness in mining uncomfortable subjects for comedy. His HBO stand-up special, the best of its kind in years, made gags at expense of the Holocaust, autism and homosexuality and not one failed to hit its mark. We remember David Brent from The Office as being one of the most obnoxious, out-of-touch characters ever created but not always quick to remember how Gervais made us sympathize with him and even root for his happiness during the final Christmas party. Gervais is a master at these turnarounds as he’s shown in both his follow-up show, Extras, and his underappreciated starring turn in last year’s wonderful surprise, Ghost Town. His character, Mark, is easily the most sympathetic role of his career from the get-go and that helps erase any pause in judging him against some of the doozies he tells. The hospital scene that Gervais plays with Flannagan comes as close to generating the kind of instant tears that we saw in Up’s now-classic montage and is played by him with such tenderness and compassion that anyone focused on labeling his words as lies should feel ashamed.

Juggling three major credits all by himself, Gervais will easily see his name grab a lion’s share of the recognition for the film’s artistic success. But it would be a real shame if Jennifer Garner was only casually mentioned for just filling a role because this is a performance worthy of the great comic actresses of the golden age. Unlike this year’s Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past where she was just a shrewish prop and a prize for the male lead’s repaired ego, Garner is every bit a comic foil for Gervais. Starting with her priceless (and reportedly ad-libbed) opening line down to her part of the perfect climactic exchange with him, Garner never blinks or winks in her portrayal of a woman built-up by a society of how to think of herself and others. She commits to every scene in what is an extremely difficult high-wire act between clueless bitchiness and the transition into liking and eventually loving her new friend. Solely watching Garner’s performance as is much a joy of witnessing the surrounding interplay and anyone concentrating on what she pulls off should be in equal agreement that it’s the best of her career and one that deserves an Oscar nomination.

The only criticism I can think to launch at The Invention of Lying is that in feature form it can only scratch the surface of all the questions it raises. With likely many more to come from audiences willing to dig deeper into its premise, we can only wish that Gervais and Robinson could craft another 9 episodes or so for television. The pair still masterfully sneak in elements involving casual racism, advertising and misogyny lurking within this Pleasantville-like utopia and utilizes its 99 minutes to tell a complete story without overstuffing it with half-truths. Lesser writers and studios would have been tempted to work in a natural ethical conclusion about lying being the death of us all and have Mark pay for getting drunk with the potential power over those conditioned never to question the status quo. The Invention of Lying is to be applauded for being so audacious with its satire and still satisfying audiences with the kind of happy ending they all expect. It’s a promise all too rarely felt or achieved in our real lives. Thank the man in the sky that we have people like Ricky Gervais to help us through it.

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originally posted: 09/23/09 02:21:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/16/17 Louise AWFUL.Goes against Gervais' previous good works. What was he thinking??? 1 stars
5/25/11 X A prime example of a unique idea turned into a bland, forgettable piece of nothing 2 stars
3/01/11 Captain Slog A poke in the eye to all religion - BRILLIANT! 5 stars
1/30/11 Amy The trailer looked funny, but it just ended up being a somewhat crappy movie. 2 stars
11/11/10 Derek Excellent religious satire. Also, smart comedy. 4 stars
8/02/10 mr.mike Some good moments, but not enough to make it worth your time. 3 stars
7/23/10 Simon Some obvious holes and liberties taken plot-wise, but now irl I cant help rethinking things 4 stars
10/28/09 lugh d in the same brutally frank dynamic as the movie, I must say I feel let down. 1 stars
10/28/09 XX Kinda weird but v. funny - maybe should be a 12 not a 12A. 4 stars
10/17/09 Mindy Van I had a good your money. Hollywood should RETIRE from films. 1 stars
10/13/09 ManInSky An enjoyable movie for agnostics, athiests, and critical thinkers 5 stars
10/11/09 Darlene M Just because you have no convictions, don't mock other's 1 stars
10/11/09 Sully The-big-man-in-the-sky approves this movie. 5 stars
10/10/09 Kitsa at the shore Lame Lame Lame save your money 1 stars
10/08/09 babara I like Ricky Garvais as co-wrote, co-directed and stars in the film. As I know many directo 3 stars
10/04/09 Judith Raimondi I have read many reviews by fear-of-thinking christians who hate this movie. I agree with t 5 stars
10/03/09 v. Offensive, rude. I am appalled at how it mocks Christianity and religion in general. 0stars 1 stars
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  02-Oct-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Jan-2010


  DVD: 19-Jan-2010

Directed by
  Ricky Gervais
  Matt Robinson

Written by
  Ricky Gervais
  Matt Robinson

  Ricky Gervais
  Jennifer Garner
  Rob Lowe
  Jonah Hill
  Louis C.K.
  Tina Fey

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