Something strange is going on out there with movie advertising. I’m not sure what it is, but it is a potentially bad idea. The internet trend of re-editing trailers to make them seem like a different genre of film may have spilled out into the real world. This year Drag Me To Hell underperformed, most likely to people expecting a real horror film and getting a slapstick comedy. Of course, they weren’t paying attention to the fact that Sam Raimi made it, but he hasn’t made the Spider-Man films as funny as they even should be.
Now comes The Invention of Lying and I got quite a bit more than I expected. The commercials make this seem like just another crappy romantic comedy with Jennifer Garner in it, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. This movie is damn funny, touching, and a refreshing look at just what kinds of assholes we humans can be. I have never been the biggest fan of Ricky Gervais, though I do know he is responsible for much of what made the original version of The Office very funny. Up to this point he has just managed to illicit a few heh’s out of me, not a bout of uncontrollable laughter. Well, I didn’t fall over in my seat crippled with a bout of laughter this time around either, but I damn well came close.
The Invention of Lying takes place in a fictional alternate reality where everyone tells the truth. Actually, they go beyond just telling the truth and make sure to give TMI every chance they possibly can. There is no regard for someone else’s feelings… ever. In fact, society is so used to telling the truth that they don’t have a word for any lies, falsehoods, deceptions, fabrications, or deceit. Quite a big difference from our world. If someone asks how you are doing, your response would be factual and over-detailed. If you show up to pick up your date early, they just might tell you they are behind schedule because they were masturbating. And you definitely look fat in those jeans, out of those jeans, and in any other clothes you might try on. I’m sure you get the picture now.
The challenge with a film like this is in keeping the situations fresh, funny, and away from repetition. There a couple moments where the story seems to drag a little bit, but thankfully it never crawls to a stop. Once Mark Bellison (Gervais) manages to tell the first lie, you see how he and the world around him quickly beings to change. The fact that no one else could even grasp the concept of a lie just makes things even better for him. While people still have a opinions, anything based on facts can’t really be contested. They just aren’t capable of thinking he could be making anything up, and at some point he realizes that one man, with a lie, can change the world.
Yes, folks, he mistakenly introduces the world to his biggest lie: religion. That is where I felt the movie really had balls. To propose that a world with out any lies would be free from religion was gutsy, brilliant, and refreshing. It was handled in very satirical way, yet it still had enough respect to not completely piss off anyone who might subscribe to a belief system. It also redefines how people view hope and the fears of what is to come after you die. Still, in the end, it is all his creation and he has to deal with it. Part of that is coming to terms with the fact that he is short, fat, unattractive, aging, and nowhere in Jennifer Garner’s line of sight.
Another thing that makes me cheer this film on is how it handles the romantic comedy angle. Simply enough, it is a comedy that just happens to have a character after the woman he has been longing for. The story does depend a lot on their interaction and relationship, but the scope is much bigger than that. If it were only a story of a short ugly guy who can lie, trying to get with a woman out of his league, it would get boring really fast. That is where the advertisements for this film falter and hopefully don’t wind up hurting this film’s take at the box office.
Any weak moments in this film stem from the fact that a premise like this takes a lot of attention to detail to push out. While religion never existed, there were still tons of churches about the landscape whenever they showed aerial shots of the city. A little CG could have removed them. Still, there are two very funny comedies to see this weekend, and I can’t tell you to choose one over the other. I can tell you, however, that you shouldn’t be choosing to see Zombieland over The Invention of Lying or the other way around. Just see both of them. There is more than enough room for two very funny comedies in one weekend, and of the two of them, Lying is the one that will make you think a bit during and after your viewing.
Movie Grade: A-