Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ticket Stubs: The Invention of Lying

From a young age we were all taught that lying is wrong. In The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson say that may not be true. Lying takes place in an alternate reality where everyone in the world speaks only the brutally honest truth, except for Gervais’s character, Mark Bellison, who has discovered the ability to lie. These conditions make reality unbearable to live in. Visually, this place does not appear to be dystopian, but it’s the way everyone treats each other. Without social boundaries, everyone expresses their envy, hate, and ambivalence to each other the second they feel it.

So why would you lie about anything at all? (First the window, then it’s through the wall!) The film suggests several options about why people lie and when they should. Initially Mark believes he can shape the world to be exactly how he wants it. He was recently fired from being a screenwriter at a major film production company. Since there is no such thing as fiction, there are only history lessons shown in theatres. Reenacting (or any acting really) is a form of lying, so all the stories are presented by a professional reader sitting on an armchair facing the camera. Mark was assigned the 1300s, which features the cinematically uninteresting Black Death. He becomes a superstar when he “discovers” a lost historical document from that century involving aliens and nude Amazonian women.

As the plot continues, Mark struggles with sincerity and how to find the right balance to live. This moves the movie into a controversial direction. I apologize for possibly speaking down to you lovely readers, but let me bluntly state this: You do not have to spiritually agree with a film in order to respect and enjoy it. No one (hopefully) wanted Tevye to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior in Fiddler on the Roof and the same applies to this movie.Gervais addresses the issue of fame and power in the excellent BBC series Extras and briefly in The Office. It’s a subject he’s obviously fascinated by. These examinations arrive at a similar thesis: fame is shallow and unsatisfying. So what can one do to lie and be satisfied? Mark becomes fulfilled when he is using his superpower to help his fellow man. Jonah Hill plays a fellow tenant in Mark’s building who is suicidal. Every time the two of them pass by, Hill says he will try a new way to end his life. He is miserable until Mark gives him hope that was never conceivable before.

I’ve talked a lot about this movie so far but I really haven’t brought up its genre. This is a comedy. Not only that, it’s a really funny one. The movie is jam-packed with some of the funniest actors working today including Tina Fey, John Hodgman, Louis C.K. and many more I’d rather not spoil. (Listen carefully to the voice of the police officer.) The premise provides a lot of unexpected and clever one-liners. One actress who I honestly didn’t think could pull them off was Jennifer Gardner. In Alias, I believed she could kick my butt, but I didn’t think she could make me laugh. She is given the difficult task of playing a character that is intensely shallow and judgmental, but she must also subtly show why Mark Bellison is so smitten with her. For a character that doesn’t have a lot of depth on the page, Gardner did an amazing job.

To me comedy is all about giving the audience something they aren’t expecting. If someone sees a joke coming, then they won’t laugh. (This can be debated since I’ve now seen several crowds crack up during the trailer for Old Dogs.) My favorite comedies are the ones that make me laugh throughout, but also have messages that I hadn’t considered before. This is the reason why I consider Ricky Gervais to be the best comedian working today.

1 comment:

  1. The two best sentences in this review:

    "You do not have to spiritually agree with a film in order to respect and enjoy it." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called this film "morally offensive". Some people can't take a joke.


    "This can be debated since I’ve now seen several crowds crack up during the trailer for Old Dogs." That just made me chuckle.