mon 22/07/2024

The Invention of Lying | reviews, news & interviews

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying

Fair means or foul: Gervais gets the girl

Show him the money: Ricky Gervais in 'The Invention of Lying'

The door to a pristine apartment is opened by a rivetingly beautiful young woman. “You're early," she says matter-of-factly. "I was just masturbating.” Has a date, and indeed a romantic comedy, ever started so winningly? Not that it goes so well for short, fat, snub-nosed Mark Bellison. At the restaurant she informs him that she’s way out of his league and the evening will not conclude in sex or even a kiss. And the waiter hits on her, unsuccessfully.

Mark takes all this on the chin because he’s used to it. Everyone is. In the brilliant conceit of Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying, this is a society in which there is nothing but the truth.

People say what's in their head. There is not a word for a lie. Thus the depressed are up front about plans for ending it all. Casinos greet customers with the cheerful prediction that the house will almost certainly win. Cops confess to racism and corruption. Doctors are frank in their diagnoses. “If I could I’d be a stripper,” says one waitress by way of hello, “but I’m not attractive enough.”

The Invention of Lying sets off, in short, like a film-length riff on Gervais’s brash USP: he dares to say what he really thinks. Even the Coke commercial admits it’s “just brown sugar water” that makes you fat, while Pepsi is for “when they don’t have Coke”. It’s one thing getting star names to make tits of themselves in Extras. If Gervais can persuade star brands to follow suit then maybe he really does walk on water.Rob Lowe, The Invention of LyingAnyway, in this ruthlessly Darwinian society, fiction does not exist, so there is of course no God and movies are notably dull recitations of historical events. And because there are no secrets, Mark knows that he is about to lose his job as a scriptwriter at Lecture Films, where his tall handsome nemesis (a chiselled Rob Lowe, pictured above) rises and rises. “I loathed almost every minute that I worked for you,” Mark's secretary tells him brightly on his way out (Tina Fey, delightful.)

Facing destitution, Mark experiences some kind of Damascene synaptic glitch in the bank and finds himself lying about how much is in his account. And so deception is invented, and Mark is instantly armed with what amounts to a superhero’s power. The parallel with Gervais's status hoik after creating The Office is there if you want it. He can suddenly make people believe anything.

But how to apply it? His barfly pals naturally recommend the multiple fondling of breasts (a choice cameo from Philip Seymour Hoffman). But after deceitfully luring a Valkyrian blonde to a motel (or “A place for meaningless sex with near strangers”), something holds him back from claiming his gratuitous perk. Maybe Gervais pragmatically twigged that there aren’t so many laughs in licensed rape. Instead Mark chooses to shed his loser status by going after the money. He duly clambers up society’s ladder with a string of outright lies.

After an opening hour rich in wit and honesty, the pay-off is almost wholly unsatisfying

At this point the film abruptly turns a corner. Mark peddles a fib to his dying mother that after death she will summoned by a Man in the Sky to a happy place. It’s the sight of Gervais miraculously welling up like a leaky effigy of the Blessed Virgin that the hint of some Higher Purpose peeks out from behind the curtain. Uh oh. He might just want to be taken seriously, like he did in that toe-curling homily about our celeb-fixated culture in Extras. The laughter dies a little in your throat.

There ensues, to be fair, a wonderful Pythonesque scene in which Mark testily delivers the precepts communicated to him by the Man in the Sky and inscribed on the back of tablet-like Pizza Hut boxes (how much did they pay for this more flattering product placement?) But by now the film is busy mutating into a box-ticking romantic comedy as the script sets itself the task of ensuring Mark gets the girl.The Invention of LyingAnna, the date who was once out of his league, is embodied by a suitably toothsome Jennifer Garner (pictured above) The problem is Mark’s still ugly, and Rob Lowe’s genetic code offers better prospects for producing cute non-fat children. Well you know who's going to win. The intrigue is in how ingeniously Gervais and his co-writer Matthew Robinson will bring the story home.

Sadly, the answer is that after an opening hour rich in wit and honesty, the pay-off is almost wholly unsatisfying. The conceit has cashed in its chips, and the run-in lacks the very thing invoked in the title: invention. You wait for the script to confront the anomaly of a society without lies, to find some clever way for Mark to correct this pervasive ill by disseminating the kindly gospel of diplomacy, politeness and buttoning the lip. It badly needs this wider resolution. Otherwise, for all the jokes, the motor of the film amounts to little more than self-pity and special pleading.

Yes, it’s unfair that women who look like Garner don’t generally fall for men of Gervais’s proportions (Gervais the director even managed to persuade Gervais the actor to bare the much maligned midriff). He picks that argument with great verve. He just doesn’t seem that interested in winning it. Even the besting of Lowe’s smooth-cheeked villain, surely a basic prerequisite for narrative closure, bafflingly takes place off camera. It seems it's enough for Gervais to invent God and get the prettiest girl in the picture. Wish fulfilment is all. Let society, not to mention the logical outcome of the plot, be damned.

There’s a sequence played out to gloopy music in which the newly empowered Mark walks the streets whispering curative sweet nothings in the ears of unhappy people. The suspicion lurks that The Invention of Lying is intended to have that sort of impact on short tubby people everywhere. The creator of The Office should get back to the day job of spreading muck, not love. The devil in Gervais, who wrote the film's riotous first half, is way better company than the preacher.

If Gervais can persuade star brands to make tits of themselves then maybe he really does walk on water

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