By Stewie Sutherland
If there’s one man in our time who could claim to be a Jack of all trades, it would be Britain’s own Ricky Gervais. Actor, comedian, singer, author of children’s books, podcaster, script writer, TV star and creator of Extras, The Office and the theory that supermarkets hide their cakes behind narrow doors to ward off larger-sized people. Gervais himself (I find) is a man for only a select crowd at his un-filtered best; his live tour of America, Out Of England, was a sell out but subject to criticism, poking jokes that he managed to get away with, but could quite easily have backfired on him.
Alternatively, his work on creating and staring in Extras and The Office have each received award nominations and critical success, the former winning a Golden Globe while the latter has been remade for audiences in four different countries. Both ran for only two seasons but have been the subject of their own cult followings and have proven his depth at being able to create different realities from the simplest ideas. Love him or hate him, Ricky Gervais has proven that he knows comedy inside and out, and being a co-writer, co-director and main star of his new movie, I settled in to watch The Invention of Lying with a high grade of expectancy.
From the very start the film shows off the depth of talent the writers (Gervais as well as Mathew Robinson) have employed. The movie itself is set in an alternate reality where the human race simply hasn’t evolved the ability to lie. Take just a quick moment to let that sink in. Sit back. Take a deep, calming breath. Try and imagine a casual day at work, school or shopping, unable to filter any of your words or thoughts. Don’t like the way something is turning out? You’ll let people know! Don’t get too relaxed – they’ll return the favour too. I just thought that this idea itself was brilliantly simple, yet so amusingly complex at the same time!
Throw in a few commercials in that are less than effective and you get the idea. Oh, and as far as religion goes, I wanted to mention there is none in the little new world that The Invention Of Lying exists within. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim… all gone. With no Deities to reject, you can cross off Atheism, too. Those of you who are staunchly religious, take heart: it’s just a comedy movie. Yet here is where the movie falls back on itself. As interesting an idea as a world without lies is, it follows the story of a man who is able to say things that are untrue, and that’s where the story goes.
So! Now we have our setting. Our main character is Mark Bellison (played by Gervais). A writer of lecture films (all non-fictional, fiction doesn’t exist… oh the humanity), he has what could be summed up as a miserable existence. His job is dull and doesn’t amount to much, his life is simple and he can’t escape from people bluntly telling him he’s “short and fat with a snub nose”. Poor Mark.
Then one day he hits rock bottom. He’s fired for a lack of people watching his history films, falls short on the rent, and is then left by Jennifer Garner’s character Anna McDoogles after she reminds him about how bad his looks are when he takes her out on a date. With little else to do, he heads down to the bank to close his account and withdraw what little money he has.
The bank computers meanwhile are suffering their own errors, and the teller doesn’t know how much money is in Mark’s account. For no reason he can fully understand, Mark says he’s got enough money for his rent and the teller, living in a world where nobody has ever said a single untrue thing, chalks the oversight up to a pc malfunction and hands over the money. Mark walks out, pays his rent, and just like that, he’s become the only man in the entire history of the world to make something up and lie.
Soon, he’s spinning stories and film lectures that have people craving for more, and telling women on the street that the world will end if they don’t sleep together soon. (Imagine if that were true?) And in a surprisingly emotional moment, he tells his dying mother that she won’t simply fade away but go to a paradise place that “you go to when you die”, with the bells and whistles of being young and being with your loved ones that as society in the real world we can’t help but associate with our own ideas of the afterlife.
So, our main character invents religion, becomes Time Magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ and wins fame and fortune. He still has that “chubby and snub nosed” look though, so he’ll have to work a bit harder to get the girl.
The film’s cast of Gervais and Garner are joined by Rob Lowe, Louis C. K. and the very busy Tina Fey, (writer, creator and main star of NBC’s 30 Rock). While the movie has a decent (albeit radical) story, several different aspects let it down. It’s a quiet sort of comedy that most will enjoy once or twice and not worry about watching again. The movie has been described by many as a satire of religion as a whole, and the various subplots can feel faded by comparison to its original tagline of the world’s first liar.
Typical of Gervais’ witty style (as opposed to his quick joke-telling stand up style), the movie has many dry lines and awkward moments that are worth a chuckle, but only if that’s your thing. Mostly, I never could stomach too much of the comedies that feature people making fools of themselves (I’ll occasionally shun The Office for that very reason) but I know it’s a large market, and some people love this kind of stuff.
Like I mentioned above, the Invention of Lying has the same general approach to comedy that Extra’s did: it’s smooth and funny, but only to people in the right mood for it. It’s a satire of our own messed up world and you might walk away thinking of it as yet another decent comedy, but I imagine most people will consider it as little more than a way to kill some time. Gervais has shown he can be clever and witty or full of punch lines, and this movie is the former. But when it comes to comedies, if you really want to laugh hard, there are so many better options out there that work so much more effectively, without resorting to the same old bag of tricks.
6 OUT OF 10