The concept of the new comedy, The Invention of Lying is brilliant. What if we lived in a world where nobody could tell a lie and everything said was absolute truth? What if everybody took what you said at face value and you were the only person in the entire world who could lie? Would you use your ability to benefit yourself or benefit others? The Invention of Lying is refreshing, original and (mostly) funny, which is a nice change from the typical Hollywood comedy fare.
Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter for Lecture Films, whose name describes itself. In the alternate universe he lives in, nobody is able to tell a lie. In fact, the word "lie" isn't even in their vocabulary because the act of telling one is non-existent. One day, he is fired from his job and about to be evicted from his apartment, so he goes to the bank to withdraw the rest of his money, a mere 300 dollars. The teller explains that the system is down, but if he just tells her how much money is in his account, she will gladly give it to him. At this moment, something in his brain snaps and he lies his way to 800 bucks. Once he discovers the power he has just summoned, he realizes that it can be used in a number of ways, including winning the heart of Anna, played by Jennifer Garner, his object of affection.
When the movie starts, Mark is on his way to pick up Anna for a date. When she comes downstairs to meet him, she says, "I just masturbated," to which he replies, "That makes me horny. I hope this date ends in sex." She then shatters his dreams by telling him that she doesn't find him attractive. The drollness of this scene's brutal honesty effectively prepares you for what is to come and will have you rolling on the floor with laughter.
After their date ends in a loss for Mark, he heads home and turns on the television to see a Coca-Cola commercial, which doesn't use fancy visuals or manipulative emotional ploys to sell its product. The spokesperson tells it exactly like it is, saying that he is there to remind you to buy Coke, although it is high in sugar, can lead to addiction, and can cause obesity in children. If only our commercials were like this.
Shorty after this, Mark gains his talent and helps himself initially, but also realizes he can do well for others. He gets a homeless man off the streets, solves a feuding relationship, cheers up the senior citizens at the retirement home, and even prevents his neighbor from killing himself. Though there are many laughs, there is heart to this story as well, slowly turning into a drama at the 30 minute mark.
Mark's mother lives in a nursing home and isn't doing well. One night, he gets a call from the institution saying that she is in critical condition. When he arrives, she is on her deathbed and explains that she is afraid because she doesn't want it all to just end into an eternity of nothingness. Wanting his mom to have peace in her final moments, he makes up a story all of us have heard before. He tells her that when you die, you go to a wonderful place where all of your friends and family are with you and you live for eternity in happiness and joy. The doctors overhear this exchange and word gets out that he knows what happens after you die. He knows he is making it up, but the others, who have never heard a lie, take it as absolute fact.
The Invention of Lying implies that in a world without lies, there is no religion, making an assertion that many will find offensive, but I found to be fascinating. It was nice to see a great comedic concept have greater aspirations than simply making us laugh. It wanted to make us think as well, asking, if there were no lies, would religion exist? It's an interesting question because religion is not an answer to life's questions, but a comfort.
When Mark gets pressured by the media to divulge his information regarding the afterlife, he makes up rules that one must follow to get to what is essentially heaven. Though he is reluctant at first, Anna explains how wonderful his mother must have felt hearing that before she died. Why not tell the rest of the world and let them live in happiness as well? The case the movie makes after this point is that religion is a temporary solution to life's problems. After he makes up the religious story, things seem to be better, but before he knows it, everything goes back to the way it was before. There are still homeless people on the street. The feuding couple is back at each other's throats. Pain and heartache are still commonplace. It asks the question, why are we wasting time with speculation about the afterlife when there is so much we could be doing here and now?
It's an interesting argument, though I'm not sure it fully comes together in the end, mainly due to the film's eventual driftage towards the typical romantic comedy conventions, but The Invention of Lying's thoughtfulness still makes quite an impact and the characters evolve over the course of its runtime. Though Mark could easily make Anna love him by telling a lie, he refuses to because he learns that living behind a fake façade won't make him happy. He wants her to love him for who he is, not the fallacies he fabricates.
There's a certain freshness to The Invention of Lying that I have not encountered in quite some time. This idea is fun, new and more importantly, built for comedy. There are so many ways you can take it that, if nothing else, you become intrigued to see which screwball direction it is going to go next. It doesn't always work, but it has ideas and puts a new spin on the theological debate, resulting in a product with more than enough to please those who like a little brains with their banter.
The Invention of Lying receives 3.5/5