The Invention of Lying (2009)

(On TV, August 2015) It’s clear, almost from the very beginning, why The Invention of Lying will never completely work.  As the voice-over laboriously explains its alternate-universe in which humanity never managed to evolve the concept of lying, the film just as quickly shreds its premise’s credibility.  Telling the truth and oversharing aren’t the same thing, and while the second makes for bigger laughs (the things Jennifer Gartner says early on…), we know five minutes into the film that this is not going to make a single bit of sense.  So The Invention of Lying takes place in absurdity early on, which would have been fine if the film hadn’t tried to develop a romantic plot or an abrasive take on religion.  Writer/producer/director/star Ricky Gervais is a notorious atheist, and while there is some interest in seeing him work out some justification for religion (as comfort to the masses given the empty void of existence), much of the film’s second half, in which religion is invented, seems filled with easy pot-shots, not-particularly-funny moments and laboriously drawn-out dramatic potholes.  A bunch of comedians in quasi-cameos makes the film more interesting that it otherwise could be (Tina Fay gets a small but striking moment as an honestly resentful administrative assistant.)  You can see flashes of interest here and there in the film’s extrapolation of its ground rules (the inner workings of a film studio when fiction doesn’t exist are amusing), but just as often, The Invention of Lying showcases what happens when a smart person becomes convinced of the hilarity of an idea impossible to sustain over 90 minutes.  (For instance, there’s a running gag about hereditary concerns being at the base of any relationship that’s almost clever but handled too bluntly.)  It doesn’t help that the film is directed and assembled flatly, without much in terms of color or filmmaking prowess –it makes everything feel even blander.  There’s a lot of wasted potential here, but there’s no use denying that the film simply fails to meet its own expectations.  (This being said, I’m aware that if I ever ended up making a movie, it would probably feel a lot like The Invention of Lying –a bunch of amusing imaginative concepts bogged down by poor execution, ultimately failing to reach anyone else but me.)

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