The Invention Of Lying ****
When it comes to Ricky Gervais it seems that most moviegoers can be classified into one of two camps – the fans who eagerly anticipate his next piece of work with almost religious devotion and the haters who won’t touch go anywhere near anything he is involved in. In other words, you either love him or hate him. As far as this critic is concerned, however, I consider myself to be somewhat more neutral, never having been a huge fan of Gervais’ work on television but much more appreciative of his screen roles, particularly last year’s very amusing Ghost Town (which only starred Gervais). For his latest film Gervais is not only starring but also writing and directing, with a pretty big deal having been made over the increased level of creative control he has been granted for this film after being very much relegated to just a cast member in his last film. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will very much depend on your personal comedy taste, of course and your Ricky Gervais tolerance level.
In a world where everyone only ever tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about everything that is on their mind, Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) feels completely out of place. When he asks the beautiful Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) how she is, she truthfully replies that she’s “depressed and pessimistic about our date tonight”. And of course there waiter can’t help but tell Mark that Anna is “way out of your league”. It’s even worse in the office, where colleagues Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe) and Shelley (Tina Fey) blithely inform Mark that they hate him. But one day Mark stumbles upon something no one has experienced before – the world’s first lie. Suddenly, his life is transformed as the exploits the new-found power of un-truth to change his life, and the life of his friends Anna and Greg (Louis C.K.), for the better, becoming rich and hopefully winning the girl in the process.
In the trailer for The Invention Of Lying, Gervais’ character can be heard describing it as “the greatest film ever made” (well, he’s actually talking about a film that exists within this film but it still comes off that way). Suffice to say that this is most definitely not the greatest film ever made. Nonetheless, with a high concept so simple and ingenious that it’s surprising no one has thought of it before now, The Invention Of Lying is still a film that has many things to recommend it. The concept is so simple yet has so much comic potential, something which Gervais has a lot of fun with, showing an extremely humourous representation of what a world in which people can only tell the truth might be like. In the world of this film, the truth can be a very funny thing and it frequently is, with Gervais’ well written screenplay full of characters who express their inner thoughts openly regardless of how inappropriate what they are thinking is. The dialogue is frequently very witty and Gervais also makes fun of the manner in which television commercials deceive consumers in order to sell a product – an advert for Coca Cola included in the film is too honest for its own good and a bus side advert for Pepsi simply reads “When they don’t have Coke”. Little things like this provide plenty of opportunities for viewers of more discerning comic tastes to laugh with the humour provided throughout being mostly based around dry and witty dialogue rather than physical gags like many mainstream comedies. The comedy is certainly pure Ricky Gervais. There is also a lot of fun to be had in the numerous big name cameo appearances with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Christopher Guest and Jason Bateman, as well as Gervais’ Extras co-stars Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson. The great names aren’t just in cameos either with Gervais having assembled a very impressive cast all round with amusing turns from Tina Fey (who is slightly underused), Rob Lowe and Jeffrey Tambor and a less amusing one from Jonah Hill. As for the leading roles, Ricky Gervais essentially plays himself like he does in everything he stars in, playing the loser type character whose life is transformed for the better well. Whether or not you like his performance depends entirely on whether or not you like Gervais of course. As for Jennifer Garner, she is perfectly sweet and upbeat as Anna, the star’s “goody two shoes” (as said by Gervais in a recent interview) image being a perfect fit for the part. Sure, the relationship that develops between her and Gervais isn’t remotely believable but there again nothing about the film is believable not is it supposed to be. What it is supposed to be is an entertaining feel-good movie with a good honest message at its core, something that (if you are a Ricky Gervais fan at least) the film achieves with rousing success. So, The Invention Of Lying is a film that Gervais fans will love, haters will hater and neutral individuals may well find themselves leaning towards the loving side of the line. So, it truly is “the greatest film ever made”. Whoops, I just told a porky. Lying must be contagious. Seriously, though, it is really worth checking out.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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