The Invention of Lying
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Theatrical Release Date: 10/02/2009
Directors: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Garner, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe, Fionnula Flanagan, Jonah Hill, Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey

What if the human race had never developed the ability to tell a lie? How would society differ? And should one person make that evolutionary leap, how could that change the course of humanity? Those are the questions at hand in “The Invention of Lying”, written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson.

In this alternate reality, Gervais plays Mark Bellison – a failed screenwriter (though movies here are just narrations of historical events) who has a crush on a woman way out of his league (Jennifer Garner) that doesn’t want to date him because he’s fat and has a snub nose, which isn’t ideal genetically for potential offspring.

Sounds uplifting, right? Well, in almost any other writer’s hands this premise wouldn’t play with the right tone but Gervais has a way of turning situations and dialogue that are on the surface mean-spirited and rude into something quite heartfelt and endearing.

Anyone who has seen the BBC version of “The Office” can attest to this effect, as his character there seems like a stereotypical jerk of a boss. But once the layers are peeled back there’s a lot more going on there and by the end of the series, what started as a dry-witted, mockumentary of a boring office becomes a remarkably touching and poignant snapshot of these people’s lives.

Now, there isn’t enough time in “The Invention of Lying” to get all of that out of the character development but Gervais and Robinson still manage to eke out as much basic and primal human emotion and ambition as possible. Gervais just wants to be happy, thinking that if he can make up for his physical shortcomings, he can win the approval of Garner. Garner wants the ideal genetic match but finds herself confused about Gervais’ character because of their non-physical chemistry. Everyone else is so unable to conceptualize that someone could tell a lie that everything Gervais comes up with becomes gospel (quite literally).

Then there are the supporting players. Louis C.K. plays Gervais’ best friend and has a loyal Labrador retriever aspect to him, which sounds a little weird but makes complete sense in the film. Jonah Hill is a self-loathing neighbor who feels life has little to offer him thanks to his physique (and he thankfully didn’t overplay this role). And Rob Lowe plays the successful, good-looking, has-it-all screenwriter. Thanks to his good genes and confidant attitude, he’s risen to the top of society and is the complete antithesis of Gervais. Lowe truly seems to relish the role and oozes preppy elitism from every sentence.

Adding to the fun are some A-list celebrity cameos that pop up here and there throughout the film. I won’t spoil it by saying who but it was clear that each of them had a lot of fun with the role and it translates on screen.

Now there are negatives to the film, and they mostly come from trying to not only tell a love story but also present a societal satire. The result is some very slow pacing not helped by a number of fade to black scene transitions (which I like to say “the end” at every time). While the running time is listed at 100 minutes, it feels much more like a solid two hours.

Still, if you’re a fan of Ricky Gervais’ work, whether it’s “The Office”, his stand-up or his podcasts, getting out to see this film is a no-brainer. For those not quite knowledgeable of his comedic style, there may be a slight period of getting used to the sharp, self-deprecating tone that the film holds but that time spent is worth it.

Even with the rather severe pacing issues, I still enjoyed “The Invention of Lying” quite a bit and give it a solid 3 out of 5. There’s a lot going on inside and behind the jokes that add the ability to discuss the film’s premise and execution well after the credits roll. Though after a quick conversation with another critic, I might make one suggestion though – treat the theory of an alternate reality where no one lies with the same accountability as that of time travel in the “Back to the Future” series. Sure, you could find some loopholes or issues involved but the important thing is to have fun … (though trying to wrap your head around it all is fun too).