Skip to content

The Invention of Lying

August 30, 2010

The Invention of Lying (2009)
Directors: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Actors: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe

Synopsis: In a world of universal truth, Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) becomes the first man to conceive of the concept of lying….

Review: Though possessing flashes of the undoubted wit and ingenuity that first steered Ricky Gervais to his current position as the unlikeliest of Hollywood players, this comic fable about a man who discovers the means of deceit in a previously untainted world of absolute honesty, is a work ultimately fudged by the compromises associated with working in a studio system.

Crucial to many a comedy genre film is the workings of its key narrative cog or conceit, and in that regard Gervais (who co-directed and co-scripted the work with Matthew Robinson) showcases an inability to adapt to the demands of a feature-length format from his stand-up/television origins. While the idea of a world where people can only speak in unrestricted truths is an amusing hook that Gervais mines well in the opening sequence of his excruciatingly awkward date with the beautiful Jennifer Garner, its true calling as a notion more suited to a five-minute comedy skit is betrayed by the fact that there are only so many times that people insensitively calling Gervais’ character a “loser” can be deemed as funny. Equally slippery and problematic is how Gervais manipulates his idea of lying to mean that society is also unable to deal in fiction, even though fantasy and deceit are two completely different suppositions.

At least the concept does allow Gervais to be genuinely subversive and tackle one of his favourite bugbears to those familiar with his stand-up routines – religious dogma – when his character essentially creates the image of heaven for his mother on her death-bed, and subsequently gets lauded by the greater public for offering a pleasing alternative to the previously-held notion that death led to “eternal nothingness”. Whatever one’s take on other aspects of the narrative, this is undoubtedly a provocative element to sneak into a mainstream American picture, and the film acquires its only real sense of vitality when he makes a scabrous satire of religious mores with a brilliant sequence when his character delivers his own ‘ten commandments’ on the back of a pizza container to a bewildered public. It is here that Gervais honours the base comic elements that brought him to the fore in the first place as well as making something almost cinematic. The scene sizzles with crackling dialogue and some caustic one-liners, and there is a sense that Gervais has crafted a sequence with an eye for the spectacle.

That the narrative dissolves back into something of an anti-climax after this juncture is a disappointment. Cinematically, Gervais and Robinson rely on the familiar tropes of slo-mo and scoring scenes to catchy pop tunes to affect momentum in the narrative and accord it what small level of pathos it deserves. With the film descending into a depressingly familiar tale of boy-gets-girl sentimentality, and throwing up the usual arcane conflict and resolution paradigms, it is difficult to ascertain whether Gervais deserves credit for at least trying in some marginal way to subvert from within the conventional Hollywood rom-com framework, or if he is wilfully letting his initial distinctiveness be swallowed up by that same machine. Judging by the film’s pervading air of complacency, and the indulgent inclusion of numerous celebrity cameos (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman and Edward Norton all presumably trying to capitalise on Gervais’ credibility as the ‘next big thing’ in comedy), I side with the latter. (October 2009)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: