Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Now Playing: The Invention of Lying

With family obligations over with for now, I'm happy to return to my regularly scheduled programming of massive movie consumption and TV watching. Why not start with this very belated review of The Invention of Lying?

Cheers, mate.

British comedy phenom, Ricky Gervais, who’s groundbreaking series The Office gave us the not nearly as groundbreaking American version, is making his second foray as the leading man in The Invention of Lying, in theaters now. Co-written and co-directed by Gervais and first time director Matthew Robinson, The Invention of Lying is a throwback to classic romantic comedies with a little satire and Monty Python-esque absurdity thrown in for good measure. The result is a truly hilarious set up followed by a slightly uneven and surprisingly teary third act.

The film presents a world where lying simply does not exist. Our main character, Mark (Gervais) is the least successful screenwriter working at Lecture Films, a production company where every movie consists of an actor sitting in a leather chair reading historical events. Mark is in charge of the 1300s and as his boss (Jeffrey Tambor) tells him repeatedly, no one can make a decent movie about the 1300s.

Mark is pudgy which, in a world where everyone is judged by their cover, this makes him extremely unsuccessful. After a lackluster blind date with the shallow and beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner) and a particularly humiliating firing, something snaps in Marks brain giving him the ability to say what isn’t. Mark’s unique skill opens up infinite possibilities that quickly move from the obvious, getting beautiful women to actually consider sleeping with him, to stumbling upon the invention of heaven and subsequently God. He’s also figured out a way to make the 1300s really interesting.

Success is his, but of course the beautiful girl is stuck on the cold fact that she and Mark just wouldn’t make a successful genetic match. Because who in their right mind would set out to create pudgy pug-nosed children?

Uh, cheers again, mate!

Most romantic comedies usually avoid subjects like eugenics and atheism and tend to feature comedic actors in comedic roles. Gervais’ brand of self-deprecating humor is the focus here but interestingly he’s backed by comedian Louis C.K. and funny man Jonah Hill, both in straight roles. Everything is turned on its head in The Invention of Lying, but it sadly shares one aspect with other generic and poorly made romantic comedies, the object of Mark’s desire, Anna, is ultimately undeserving. But Garner is so physical in her comedy and endearing despite the character’s vapid nature. As she showed in 13 Going on 30, Garner has the charisma that brings depth to otherwise gimmicky scenarios.

The Invention of Lying is a little heavy on the musical montages and this world where lying doesn’t exist also appears to be inexplicably filled with very stupid people. Gervais manages his signature style despite these faults. He is the sympathetic loser with a real heart. And as Gervais showed in his excellent series Extras, he is not afraid give his funny folks genuine emotion.

Hmm, I'm sensing a pattern here.

Filled with celebrity cameos and some truly original and ridiculous comedy, The Invention of Lying doesn’t exactly reinvent the romantic comedy, but it’s silly, fun and smart with a sweet message of hope and self-reliance. Amidst a sea of formulaic chick flicks and brainless action pics, it’s refreshingly honest.

*** out of ****

The Invention of Lying
now playing
100 min
Writ/Dir: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tiny Fey, Jeffrey Tambor + surprises
Rated PG-13 for some language, sex and drug references which are mostly harmless.