Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Invention of Lying: Grade C

The Invention of Lying (2009)
Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill. With Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and uncredited cameos by Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I think that was him). Co-writer and Director Ricky Gervais.

I am a huge fan of English standup Gervais, the creater of “The Office” television show. He is not only a great joke writer but a subtle face and voice actor. So I was a bit disappointed at the flatness of this romantic comedy. We are to imagine a contemporary world in which everyone tells the truth all the time and nobody has ever lied. So there are lots of funny gags along the lines of “Yes, that dress does make your butt look fat.”

However, after just a few minutes, it is obviously all the same joke, and it's not that funny because the social interactions are so far removed from what we are familiar with that all you can see is a goofy comedy sketch. Characterization is close to nil.

Then one day, a man (Gervais) discovers (not invents) lying, by telling a bank teller that he has more money in his account than he does. She naturally assumes the computer is wrong and gives him what he asks for, because lying is unknown. Soon he is rich.

The funniest bit is when he lies to his dying mother, to comfort her, by telling her there is a “man in the sky who controls everything.” The word gets out on this, and soon he is a famous prophet, with his ten rules about the man in the sky written on the back of two pizza boxes (nice product placement for Pizza Hut). But even that extremely funny and satirical scene doesn’t go anywhere. The movie is, after all, just a light vehicle for Gervais’ jokes, and not intended as a meaningful satire on religion or contemporary culture.

Everything ends up happy and normal and he gets the girl (Garner), even though her acting is abominable. Lots of good jokes, but then why not just rent a Gervais stand-up video for that.

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