The Invention of Lying seemed like a clever enough idea. The new film from Ricky Gervais takes place in another world in which people have not evolved the ability to lie. It sounded to me like plenty of humorous situations could come from that premise—as well as plenty of savvy social satire. To be honest, The Invention of Lying falls short on all accounts.
The movie follows “loser” Mark Bellison (Gervais) as he has a failed first date with a beautiful woman, Anna (Jennifer Garner), loses his job as a screenwriter (There’s no fiction in this world either.), and worries about taking care of his ailing mother. When trying to figure out how to pay his rent with no money and no job, Mark has a sudden breakthrough. He tells a lie. Suddenly, he can tell people whatever he wants to. And because no one else can lie, no one questions the veracity of his statements. Mark uses this newfound ability and the power that comes with it to turn his career around, make a lot of money, and inadvertently start the world’s first religion. He can’t, however, bring himself to lie to Anna to win her love.
I thought The Invention of Lying sounded like a great movie, but the screenplay is just dismal. There’s so much more that could have been done with writing about a world without lies, and I was sorely disappointed. Sure, there are some genuinely funny moments, but mostly the movie is just superficial.
The acting in the movie was nearly as disappointing as the screenplay. Gervais was the only person who I felt gave any depth to his character, and he was the only person who could lie. Everyone else just acted dim-witted. Jennifer Garner is sweet as Anna, but there’s not really any substance to her character or her performance. I can’t recall a single moment when she didn’t have a vacant smile on her face up until the last scenes. Rob Lowe is hate-able and shallow as the antagonist, Mark Bellison, but that, of course, is just a major component of Lowe’s résumé. The performances give the impression that intelligence comes from the ability to lie.
Trying to find something to like about this movie, I enjoyed the costuming and the cinematography. In trying to create a parallel world, Tim Suhrstedt (Cinematography), Pricilla Elliot (Art Direction), Kathleen Rosen (Set Decoration), and Susie DeSanto (Costume Design) created a sort-of retro, sort-of timeless setting. As a world without lies, the look of this movie is pristine. Everything seems very clean and bright. The costumes create a classic, wrinkle-free style that helps present Garner as an old-school leading lady and Lowe as the smarmy, smooth-talking bad guy of classic movies. The look was kind of like Pushing Daisies, only far, far less colorful and awesome.
In my opinion, the major problem with this movie is that it equates not telling a lie with not having any sort of verbal filter. Last I checked, not saying everything that comes into one’s head does not constitute lying. And really, what I’ve learned from watching The Invention of Lying is that in Ricky Gervais’s mind, honesty means vapidity and shallowness, while lying leads to religion and making people feel good. Have I mentioned how vapid this movie is enough yet?
The Invention of Lying was written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson. It runs 100 minutes and is rated PG-13 for language including some sexual material and a drug reference.