Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Invention of Lying (2009)

Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill
Director: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson

It's no lie: this movie disappoints.

It takes place in a world where everyone tells the truth, meaning that not only does everyone give their honest opinion but there are no works of fiction either; just a bunch of boring history documentaries. It centers around a guy named Mark Bellison, played by Ricky Gervais, who is down on his luck and is constantly being called a loser. This all changes, however, when he inadvertently tells the world's first lie. Soon afterwards, all the dominoes begin to fall and his life is turned upside down by his surprising discovery.

Let's start with the obvious: the first part of the movie is complete and utter crap! It's not funny, it's incredibly awkward, and just plain weird. It's kind of like one of those commercials that you see where everyone says what is on their minds, no matter how inappropriate they are. Those are fine for a cheap laugh and usually last about 30 seconds at the most. This is not the case in the film: we are suppose to take this at least semi-seriously and it goes on for the first 10 to 20 minutes of its running time! It doesn't really make much sense: just because people can't lie, that shouldn't mean that they have to mention every little thought that pops into their head. And if there is no fiction, couldn't they at least jazz up some of the documentaries like they do on the History and National Geographic channels. It just...doesn't make sense!

Mark is...passable. He discovers his ability to lie as a result of...certain chemicals in his brain reacting differently for no reason at all...I don't know, it's not really explained; it just kind of happens. He has fairly incredible powers since everyone believes anything he says since they have no concept of someone saying anything other than the truth. He does fairly typical stuff, like trying to get laid (unsuccessfully), avoids getting arrested, gets rich by robbing a casino, and making up a story for his job at a documentary film studio (all with more success). However, he usually maintains a sense of prudence. He has a chance to have sex with a woman, but backs down because he feels wrong about doing it. When he does lie at later points in the film, it is mostly to make people feel better. So while he is not exactly a very interesting character, he has some good qualities.

Still, when Mark uses his lying for good, it doesn't always come off as...particularly hopeful. For instance, his neighbor Frank Fawcett (Jonah Hill) is constantly talking about being lonely and wanting to kill himself. I..guess that is suppose to be funny in a dark, sad kind of way. Anyway, Mark attempts to make makes him feel better by lying to him and saying "Everything is going to be alright." I think this moment is suppose to be heartwarming, but it comes as almost mean; its like you feel so sorry for the guy that you have to make stuff up just to make him feel better. Mark may have the best of intentions and he does become friends with him afterwards, but it just seems kind of wrong.

This gets taken to the extreme when Mark confronts his ailing mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who is afraid of dying. He tries to comfort her by saying that when she dies, there will be a "Man in the Sky" who will give her a mansion to live in for all of eternity.

Yeaaaaah, you see where this thing is going....?

Pretty soon, word spreads that Mark knows these really big "secrets" and he has to come up with all these rules to calm people's nerve about life and death. You know, if Gravis and his co-writer and co-directer Matthew Robinson wanted to do a parody about religion, that would have been fine. Maybe they would have liked to have done that, but were too afraid of the controversy (Gravis is openly atheist, but usually does not like to flaunt about it in public); I don't know for sure. As a result, however, it seems that it feels like they decided to just cram it into this film without allowing it to reach its full potential. It's too bad because this was probably the funniest aspect of the movie.

But even this does not remain the main focus for long, because the film then decides to turn into a stereotypical romantic comedy! Even as Mark gains fame as a would-be messiah, he does not have any luck winning over his love interest Anna McDoogles, played by Jennifer Garner. The reason why is because she wants a man who will provide the proper genetics for her future children as opposed to one who will give them "fat kids with snub noses".

Too soon? Hmm, probably should have just stuck to the Ben Affleck joke...

Mark obviously has it in his power to change her mind, but he is too much of a nice guy to do so, preferring to win her over by showing who he is as a person. You know, the stupid way. He tries to tell her about how she is the kindest person he has ever known. I'm not really sure how he's not lying at this point because she is not a nice person! She is self-centered and extremely cold toward him and life in general! Then again, that describes everyone in this picture besides Mark; it kind of surprises me that Frank is the only one who wants to commit suicide! Who would want to live in a world like this?! Anyway, I will not ruin the ending, but you can pretty much see how this whole thing is going to go down, so there is no point on elaborating on it.

This film is a mess. It is not funny for the most part, the characters are both bland and/or unlikeable, and the plot cannot seem to pick a theme and stick with it (not to mention a ton of random celebrity cameos that barely contribute to the story at all). Worst of all, it sends across a very unpleasant message, if even it had one to begin with: that it is acceptable to lie. Look, maybe it is fine to fib a little bit to avoid hurting someones feelings (as is shown at the very end of this picture) or to avoid someone from being put in danger, but for the most part, telling the truth is the way to go. Sure, there would be problems if everyone was honest with one another, but overall the world would be a much better place to be in. And just because you cannot lie does not mean you need to be an inappropriate jackass like the film seems to imply; there is a little thing called "self-control" which the filmmakers seemed to have forgotten to add in when they were crafting the script.

As I said in the beginning, I am a little disappointed this did not work out. I tried to give this film some credit for having a unique idea, something that is growing increasingly more difficult to find nowadays, but I cannot honestly do it because they botched up the execution so much. I hate to admit this, but I would rather see a movie with a plot that has been done a billion times of times if it manages to have other interesting aspects to it (i.e. strong characters, good writing) then one that goes on a different path and fails to materialize properly. Others may disagree with this approach, but they should at least acknowledge that just because a film is different does not automatically mean it's a superior piece of work. Still, there were some parts of the picture that worked. The religious parodies were entertaining as I already mentioned, and I liked Rob Lowe and Tiny Fey's characters. Yes, they were about as nasty as everyone else, but they seemed to be the only ones who actually seemed like they were enjoying themselves, even though Lowe is basically playing a more blunt version of the character he played in "Wayne's World" almost twenty years ago and can practically do this in his sleep.

Overall, however, the film just comes off as unfunny and, at its worst, mildly insulting. I don't recommend it...and that is no lie. And that was another really bad joke, so I'm going to stop now.

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