For those who want to philosophize in the comfort of their quarantined homes, you might want to check out the 2009 film starring funnyman Ricky Gervais on Netflix. The plot appears to be quite simple. In a world where the concept and actions of deceit are unknown, a broken down man, Gervais, uses his new found discovery of lying to improve his typically unfortunate life. However, as Gervais’ knavery piles up, he inadvertently tells a “lie” that attracts the ears of the entire world: there is life after death.
Now before you write this film off as an atheistic attempt to mock religion, note that the film’s setting offers more context. This is not the Earth we all know and love. There is no flattery. There is no hope. There is no faith. Instead, everything said and done is purely based off of logical proof. And while people like Rob Lowe’s character, Brad Kessler, and Tina Fey’s character, Shelley, believe this to be the best way to go about things, others like Gervais’ Mark Bellison (or those watching at home) soon realize that the “truth” hurts and sometimes a “lie” is better suited for the situation. Overall, that seems to be the moral of The Invention of Lying.
How the movie ends up at its lesson is where I have my critiques. In terms of character development, Gervais’ character has obviously been given the most focus, as the story revolves around him and his special talent. The second most developed character is Jennifer Gardner’s Anna McDoogles; yet, I consider her development to be the most unrealistic of them all. McDoogles is Bellison’s love interest who, throughout the movie, declares she won’t love him back because she doesn’t want “chubby, snub-nosed children.” McDoogles clings tightly to this idea throughout the whole movie until (SPOILER ALERT) she doesn’t, and to me, it didn’t seem that natural of a transformation at all. The other characters are quite forgettable but for good reason. It’s difficult to relate to those that are brutally honest whether it be Jonah Hill’s character, Frank, and his nonchalant, suicidal cries for help, or Louis C.K.’s character, Greg, and his nonchalant, perverted cries for breasts.
This is not to say that these mentioned actors didn’t do their best with what they had to work with, script-wise. In the movie, there’s a beautiful scene where Bellison’s mother, played by Fionnula Fiegen, is on her death bed, fearing the “eternity of nothingness” that is about to await her. Gervais’ proceeds to deliver a heartfelt speech where he promises her an afterlife full with mansions, loved ones, and eternal happiness, leading to the whole “man in the sky” lie. While this seems like an attack towards faith and religion, the scene focuses more on the joy that soon filled both Bellison and his mother. In this world, reality and bluntness is the lay of the land, so for a “lie” to bring someone such strong feelings of comfort and closure shows the power faith can have on us all.
My biggest gripe with the film is the assumptions it makes about humanity and the “truth.” To assume that humans are cold, perverted, and selfish in their honest form is downright cynical. To assume that our kind remarks towards each other are only used to flatter is simple-minded. There were times during the movie where I would lose interest in the repetitive social commentary they were trying to project. This made the movie’s ending for me feel like a unrelated, cop out. Yet, the clever humor found in the film, along with a strong performance by the cast, kept me engaged and laughing.
But what about you? Will you like this movie? Before answering that, I must say that The Invention of Lying is a hit-or-miss type of film. Some will enjoy it’s dark humor for a movie listed in the Fantasy/Romantic Comedy genre, while others will immediately be turned off by its message and character/plot development. Even if you fall towards the latter, I recommend watching the film, as it offers an interesting take on death, faith, flattery, love, and what “lies” lie ahead.