Liar’s joker 

Ricky Gervais’ new high concept comedy.


As high-concept comedies go, “The Invention of Lying” is pretty far out there: a bleak dystopia masquerading as romantic comedy. Riffing on the idea of a society that has not developed the ability to lie, the film spins the story of a man (Ricky Gervais) for whom telling the truth has become an unbearable burden. The truth hurts, so Gervais does the unthinkable: He tells a fib.

First, though, he has to hit bottom. We meet him just before impact, arriving at a nondescript apartment for a disastrous blind date. He already knows that he'll likely be fired the next day, if his boss can finally work up the nerve, and his prospects with this beautiful woman that he's never met are dead on arrival. See, folks aren't so much honest as effusive. Telling the truth here is here conflated with letting fly the most immediate feelings. You can imagine how Jennifer Garner felt when she opened the door to Gervais' husky frame and piggish skin.

Fortunately, the stubborn credulity of his fellow man proves a boon. When Gervais finally resolves to start making things up, the whole world opens up to him. The teller believes him when he overstates the balance on his bank account. A friend complements his work when he claims to have invented the bicycle. A woman takes him seriously when he says that the world will end if the two don't have sex.

Gervais struggles to share his discovery, a possibility so far beyond the conception of his fellow man that he can't even begin to describe what he's doing. He settles on “saying things that ... aren't.” That understanding, of course, extends the concept of lying far beyond the realm of routine ethics and into the world of the imagination. The film's thoughts on this are wonderfully fleshed out, particularly concerning its impact on culture. In a world without untruth, popular entertainment is limited to the dry recitation of historical events in so-called “lecture films.”

Unfortunately, this dryness extends to the personalities of the film's characters, and the film turns tedious. There's not much to like about anyone here, and so the typical RomCom plot hinges on your ability to believe that Gervais is somehow granted imperceptible access to Jennifer Garner's soul. He's got to see something beyond her intractable superficiality. Other than that, she's really just a pretty face. His struggle to convince her that the vain man she's engaged to marry is somehow wrong for her can't convince even us. The two seem made for each other.

As with his fellow brilliant British comedian Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais has had trouble translating his unequivocal stardom in Great Britain into stateside success. The success of America's version of his classic BBC television show, “The Office,” proves there's an audience for his sense of humor, a gleeful wickedness tempered by an unconditional love of failures. However, the difficult second half of this ambitious film will likely prove too heavy a load to bear for audiences not already in love with Gervais' shiny red face and hyena laugh, and it will test the goodwill of even his biggest fans.


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