I like Ricky Gervais. I like him as David Brent, the average boss in The Office. His style is one of a person who thinks he’s funny and intelligent and cool, while to everyone else he’s a prick. That makes for good comedy, making fun of yourself without knowing it. I didn’t like him in Ghost Town which characterizes him as a whiny bastard. That didn’t work for me. I do like him in Extras. It’s like he’s David Brent, only in the acting world. And now in his directorial debut, Gervais creates something wholly original, something that is amazing. This is The Invention Of Lying.
The movie is set in an alternate reality, where everyone speaks what they think; they can only tell the truth, and they can’t feel guilty about it because they don’t know how to lie. In this world, Coke’s tagline is “Because it’s famous” and Pepsi’s tagline is “When there’s no Coke”. In this world, people believe other people simply because they don’t know the difference between the truth and lies. It is in this world that Mark Bellison (Gervais) lives. He’s a fat loser with no prospects and works for Lecture Films, and studio that can only use real events as movie stories. He gets fired from his job when The Black Plague doesn’t work out as a movie. He goes on a blind date with Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner, very likable as always), but she tells him when they meet that they have no chance together because of his genetics. Then there’s Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe), the man who thinks he’s better than Mark (which is true), and who’s the leading screenwriter at Lecture Films. Mark has kept his mother in “Sad Place Where Hopeless Old People Come To Die” or something like that, but loves her a lot. One day, he goes to the bank, and then the camera shows lightning bolts zoom on his brain, and he LIES about the amount of money in his bank account when the computer system is down. When the system comes back up, the teller thinks it’s faulty (because everyone tells the truth) and he gets his money. And so begins his amazing change in lifestyle. At the same time, he lies to his mother about what happens after death, that there will be a wonderful place with lots of mansions etc. People think he’s a prophet. He gets richer, and gets more followers…but at the end of the day he’s still unhappy. Why? Because he wants Anna.
The concept of the movie is great. It makes for a lot of comedy. But at the heart of the movie is the story of a man who is in love and wants to get his girl and at the same time about a man who wants to make his mother happy. It’s the simplicity that creates confusion. It does have it’s moments, including one of the most satirical scenes of the year where Mark explains to the people how there is a “MAN IN THE SKY” who controls everything and if you do three bad things, when you die you go to a “bad place”. Everyone believes him, and they don’t care where he got the information from. I mean, Gervais is an atheist, which is probably why he rewrites religion as we know it. It’s good satire, but not laugh out loud at the same time. What I found lacking in The Invention Of Lying is good humor. Most of the time, it was boring. The situations were good, but the actual dramatization of these situations weren’t as good as the situations themselves.
The performances by the three leads: Gervais, Garner, and Lowe are great. But most of the supporting performances and cameos are a let-down. Jonah Hill and Louis C.K. provide the best friend performances that aren’t wholly enjoyable. And the cameos from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton and Jason Bateman are plain boring. Stephen Merchant does have a good cameo though. Overall, the performances are flat near the end.
What Gervais has created is something that could have been a cult classic comedy with better performances and comedy, but he decides to focus on a romance that feels synthetic at times. But then if what you’re looking for is a PG-13 intelligent comedy that makes fun of God, here’s your movie.