A few Saturday nights ago I treated myself to a pay-per-view movie. I settled on The Invention of Lying because I’m not allowed to watch scary movies alone and I like Ricky Gervais, the main actor, co-author and co-producer. Though billed as a comedy, it never once cracked my lips in a smile. I wasted $4.99 on it (and 99 minutes of my life. Luckily, my time isn’t worth much (as evidenced by my blog’s theme)).
So, if you haven’t seen it (and I’m betting you haven’t since you are certainly a more discriminating spender of time than I am (as evidenced by the blogs you read)) here it is nut-shell-wise:
The movie takes place in an alternate reality that is just like our reality except people can’t lie or even conceive of an untruth. Enter Mark (Ricky Gervais), a sad sack if there ever was, who inexplicably realizes he alone can tell lies and even benefit from them. Then montage meets montage and begets another montage: He gets un-earned money, convinces a hot stranger to have sex, evades a DUI, comforts a dying parent, talks a suicide out of taking action, and deceives his love interest, Anna (Jennifer Gardner), who has no interest in him. It’s unclear why anyone would bother to construct a new world chronicling the very reasons we all lie in this one. It’s as if you were suddenly given wings and used them to fly to the park-and-ride to catch a bus to work.
Not to be out-done by their own tedious predictability, the writers also have Mark invent religion complete with a Moses-style two-tablet public presentation of commandments that were so milquetoast I wanted to crisp them in a bit of fire and brimstone. Ricky Gervais is an out-spoken atheist so I guess he thought it was subversive to equate religion with lies. In fact he proved that given any starting point, Christianity is inevitable. This is an important reminder to writers: maintain tight control over your content or risk making a point directly opposite from your intent.
Now, for my criticism:
The way the characters demonstrate their inability to lie is by saying absolutely everything just as soon as it pops into their heads no matter how rude or inappropriate it may be — and it’s almost always rude and inappropriate. For instance, the first scene features Mark showing up to collect Anna for a date. She announces that she’s not looking forward to it, only agreed to go as a favor to a friend, that she’s way out of his league, and by arriving early he interrupted her from masturbating. Now, maybe I took a big dump after I watched this movie, but not including that in my blog is not lying, it’s just keeping my mouth shut — something no one in the movie can do. It gives all the characters a maniacal, self-obsessed quality that is off-putting and, worse, much worse, unfunny.
As expected, Anna has the lion’s share of not lying. She can’t get through a single scene without saying how tickled she is by her own impeccable appearance and enviable financial situation and fashionable clothing and expensive jewelry and how desperate she is to produce the ultimate accessories: adorable children. In between skewering Mark for his physical flaws she also notes a couple of positives: Mark is fun, would make a good husband and father, and is her best friend (a claim unsupported by any scenes in the movie). The problem — the entire, singular problem — is that he’s ‘not able to contribute the DNA she wants to combine with hers.’ Does he have an incurable and devastating disease running through his genes? Well, yes, if one considers being fat with a snub nose just that kind of disease. And she does, she so does. And since she can’t lie she is compelled to say it a billion times. No exaggeration. If it takes one second to tell someone he’s fat with a snub nose one billion times, it’s only 31 years — about half as long as the movie feels.
The worst scene (with all others running a close second) happens late in the movie. Mark and Anna are chatting —awkwardly as ever — on a park bench and he’s trying to explain that she might be missing something if she only values people for their apparent genetic fitness. Dumb as she is beautiful, Anna finds this concept baffling. How can he simplify it? Hmmm. If only someone had coined a phrase about judging books by… A-ha! He’ll use the other park-goers as examples. Mark points to a man napping in the grass and asks what she sees: “Sleeping, ugly fatty. He’s a loser.” Darn it. Well, what about that man in business attire hurrying across the lawn: “Short, sweaty, bald guy.” This may be harder than he thought. What about that pair of quirky twenty-somethings flirting with each other: “Two nerdy losers in hats.” Anna, still missing the point, but enjoying the ‘game,’ asks Mark what he sees in her. He decides to tell the truth (ironic!): “You’re pretty. Got a wonderful smile. You’re the sweetest, most caring person I know. [Some crap about a freckle he finds endearing and] you’re the most wonderful person I’ve ever met.” And there it is: Primarily he loves her physical beauty and secondarily he loves attributes she doesn’t even possess. Mark isn’t a good man overlooked by a world obsessed with looks. He’s a judgmental ass in love with another judgmental ass – he’s just on the wrong side of what’s attractive.
That weekend I also watched another movie (for free) with almost the exact same premise. While not more funny, the second movie was a slightly less cynical effort. So, congratulations Gervais and co-writer, you were one cut below Paul Blart: Mall Cop.