Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Movie Log: The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying annoyed some viewers who actually do believe in a "big man in the sky" who tells everyone what to do and rewards people who don't do three "bad things" with a mansion and eternal joy, but it's obvious religious satire is still funny (and very on point), particularly to those of us who are not troubled by the lack of invisible support. Like Ricky Gervais's first starring vehicle, Ghost Town, it's a bit lightweight, but it has a sharper bite than Ghost did (even as Lying looks amazed at you, with a guileless smile, wondering whatever you could be talking about).

Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a schlubby mediocre screenwriter in a world where no one has ever lied. (SFnally inclined audience will note the similarity to James Morrow's magnificent novella City of Truth, and the similarity actually goes deeper than the immediate premise -- both Morrow and Gervais & cowriter Matthew Robinson posit a similar reason for lying to come into the world -- though they do very different things with it from that point.) Invention of Lying is its funniest and most inventive in the early scenes, as the camera rejoices in discovering a world where people routinely tell each other things like "I was just masturbating" (to a newly arrived date) or "I'm out of your league" or just "I've never liked you," with the most matter-of-fact air.

But, eventually, Mark does learn how to lie, and the satire-of-religion plot starts up from there. It's actually a pretty gentle satire, rooted in the impulse to comfort and shield others from harm. (It's possible that Mark had his breakthrough simply because he's had so much abuse aimed his way that he finally worked out how not to abuse others.) And the second half of the movie isn't nearly as inventive, or cacklingly funny, as the first, particularly as the romantic plot rumbles on. (Gervais assumes that audiences don't want to see him actually be romantic, so he has the plots of his movies maneuver around his sad-sack characters until the woman -- in this case, Jennifer Garner -- realizes how worthy he is and leaves behind the more conventionally attractive and romantically expressive character for Gervais's character.)

But Invention of Lying is very funny and is never dull, which is more than one can usually expect from a modern Hollywood comedy, and it may even lead to interesting conversations afterward -- particularly if you see it with people whose religious views are different from your own.
Listening to: Okkervil River - The Velocity of Saul at the Time of his Conversion
via FoxyTunes

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