Friday, February 19, 2010
You can't handle the truth
By Edward Copeland
One of the first times I held the infant daughter of a good friend of mine, I commented how sweet she was and how she wasn't even old enough to have told her first lie. Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying exists in an imaginary world of that sort of universe, where everyone always tells the truth, no matter how harsh or cruel. In fact, no one even know what a lie is. They couldn't define the word if they tried. It makes for a very funny premise and a mostly very funny movie, one that is sure to piss off the extremely religious among us.
Gervais not only stars, he co-wrote and co-directed the comedy with Matthew Robinson. Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter for Lecture Films. Since only truth exists in this universe, the only movies that are made are recounting of historical events and Bellison's assignments are stuck in the 13th century and the black plague just isn't producing boffo box office, so the poor schlub is about to lose his job. He's honest about it on his first (and what she tells him, will be their, because of his weight, only) date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), a woman even the waiter informs him is out of his league.
The all-truth universe proves very funny, right down to many sight gags. The nursing home where Mark's mother resides is called "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People." It truly makes a case that absolute truth isn't all it's cracked up to be. Then again, living in a world where there are more lies going on than truthtelling (and bad attempts at lying at that), it's really hard to judge. Still, it's funny to watch as everyone constantly speaks the absolute truth, not to be cruel, but because they simply have no other choice. I marvel at how he got Coke to agree to its mock ad, though I think the film missed an opportunity to portray what politics looks like in this kind of universe.
Mark, out of a job and unlucky in love, also faces eviction from his apartment, so he goes to his bank to close his account to have enough money to rent a truck to clear out his apartment. Unfortunately, the bank's system is down and they can't access his information. At that moment, something happens in Mark's brain that has never occurred in another human's brain before: When the teller asks how much he needs from his account, he lies. Since everyone assumes every word uttered by every person is the truth, no questions are asked and she gives him the excess cash, and Mark discovers he may well be the most powerful person in the world.
First, he uses his newfound ability to lie to acquire money at a casino (even though the odds are rigged toward the house, they are blatantly honest about it — they can't help it). Mark then realizes that he can write screenplays that aren't true as well and his universe's first fictional feature is born. However, the real phenomenon occurs by accident.
As his mother (Fionnula Flanagan) lies dying after a series of severe heart attacks, she expresses fright at disappearing into nothingness. Seeking to comfort her, Mark manufactures an afterlife, a wonderful place where she will find eternal happiness and be reunited with her late husband an all her old friends. Unfortunately, the doctor and some nurses overhear this and, as all people in this world do, assume every word uttered is the absolute truth and the Mark knows something no one else has ever revealed. By accident, Mark has invented religion.
As crowds gather outside the hospital to demand answers, Mark holes up inside with Anna and his best friend Greg (Louis C.K.) to devise the rules for his lie, all involving the "invisible man in the sky." Gervais, an open atheist, has reached the point of the movie that will piss the pious off. For me however, it is very funny. In fact, as time goes on, I think that The Invention of Lying is the type of film whose reputation will grow as more discover it.
The only problem with the film is that it begins to peter out in the third act as it concentrates on Ben's desire to win Anna's heart and convince her that there is more to love and marriage than just picking the right genetic match (personified by an unctuous rival screenwriter played by Rob Lowe). Ben begins to feel guilty about some of his lies and chooses not to at times when he could, because he doesn't want to trick Anna into wanting him, he wants her to make the right decision.
Still, most of The Invention of Lying is very funny and it is populated by many funny cameos by actors in small parts. I almost wish that Gervais had went a little stronger with his points, but it seems as if he shies away from truly shoving the made-up aspect of religion in his audience's face and as a result, comes up with a weaker ending.