Thursday, 8 October 2009

TIFF Dispatch: The Invention of Lying

I'm going to play around with the order here, seeing as The Invention of Lying is now playing and a review after the fact probably won't be of interest to anyone except me and the people from the future who read this blog as some sort of archaeological evidence of what people did to pass their time in our era.


"I just thought of vanilla and skunks."

Perhaps the biggest (and most amusing) lie in The Invention of Lying is that screenwriters (and writers in general) enjoy such a high profile and are held by our culture in such high esteem. What's not a lie is that Ricky Gervais is not attractive. He knows it. We know it. And he puts this shared (if unacknowledged) understanding at the heart of The Invention of Lying, inviting us to go along with him as he exposes the uglier points of our collective humanity.

Wait. Let me back up. In case you're still unfamiliar with the premise, Gervais has invented a world where no one has ever told a lie. It looks just like ours - actually, it looks like a small town in New England where they take pictures for LL Bean catalogues. It's not that people are exceedingly honest by choice; no, they're simply incapable of lying.

Early on the premise does offer up some genuine laughs as Gervais presents a variety of everyday scenarios where it's very, very common to lie. When he shows up for a date with love interest Jennifer Garner, for example, she bluntly declares "I don't find you attractive." Their waiter greets them with a deadpan "I'm embarrassed I work here." TV ads for Coke reveal "it's really just sugar and fizzy water, but we'd like you to continue drinking it." The rest home where Gervais' mother lives is adorned with the sign "A Sad Old Place Where Old People Come to Die."

And so on.

Things get really interesting (and the film gets its title) when through some unexplained synapse malfunction, Gervais - having lost his job as a screenwriter and behind on his rent - tells the bank teller that he has more money in his bank account than he actually does. From there we follow along as his newfound ability first presents unlimited opportunities for selfish fun (To a gorgeous blonde he says "The world will end unless we have sex right now.") through to his, seemingly inventing religion in a hilarious echo of Graham Chapman's "I'm not the Messiah" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The film does follow some rom-com conventions - we don't know why Gervais finds Garner so desirable, for example - we're just expected to go with it, and the film does bog down in the third act as you sense the gears winding down. But it also contains some amusing cameos - watch for nearly unrecognizable Edward Norton and Rob Lowe delivers a pitch-perfect performance as a smarmy climber and Gervais' chief rival for Garner's DNA. "I don't understand you," he declares flatly. "And I fear things I don't understand." There's a question at the film's heart - are we really as ugly as all that? In Gervais' willingness to mine his self-loathing for comic gold the answer, sadly, may be "yes." What you'll gain from it as well is a new appreciation for the ways white lies, embellishments and selective omissions keep us from killing each other, or in some cases, ourselves.

Oh - nearly forgot to mention: The Invention of Lying is brought to you in part by the fine folks at CVS/Pharmacy, Budweiser and Pizza Hut.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your YouTube video link doesn't work. #fail