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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Invention of Lying

In a world with no lies, hilarity ensues

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

You probably won't appreciate the genius of Ricky Gervais' droll and darkly hilarious comic fantasy on first viewing, and that's the truth. Invention of Lying is a flawed, human, but often brilliant comedy that, in its best moments, can hang with vintage Albert Brooks. 

Here Gervais concocts a world where everyone speaks the blunt, often ugly, truth. So you get simple realities such as, "Your baby is so ugly it looks like a little rat." It's where nobody tells lies. 

With no lying, there's no fantasy, so all movies are drab historical documentaries, and pudgy loser Mark Bellison slaves away in a cubicle cranking out screenplays about the black plague. Nobody likes him, he's saddled with "the boring 13th century," and to the delight of his hallway antagonist (Rob Lowe as the perfect plastic snob), he's on the verge of being fired. 

Mark's only bright spot is the date he's finally landed with longtime crush Anna (Jennifer Garner), though when he picks her up she informs him, truth be told, that she's just masturbated because there's no way they're having sex. 

Things perk up when, at rock bottom, Mark discovers he can lie and people won't question him, amounting to a superpower, and quickly his bank account's flush and he's the star at work. In a profoundly moving scene at his mother's deathbed, he cooks up a beautiful afterlife story on the spot to comfort her, and soon he's writing his own religion on the back of two pizza boxes. All he needs now is to win Anna without lying. 

At first blush the direction feels flat, but Gervais makes subtle choices; he packs the soundtrack with such smart-snark lyricists as Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. He loads the cast with top-shelf comic talent, including Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey, Martin Starr, Jason Bateman and Louis C.K, and adds silly cameos from big-time actors. 

In the first half, it's a brutal, black comedy, a rebuke of every shallow asshole you've ever met. It attacks the class system, marketing, dating and faith. 

It gets a tad mushy after that: Garner is sublime as a doe-eyed innocent who's also casually mean; still you wonder if Gervais' points about shallowness would be better served if a less lovely, statuesque actress were the love interest.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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