Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Saying Things that Aren't: The Invention of Lying

There's a moment in The Invention of Lying where you can see a sketch idea thrown in that, while funny, doesn't entirely mesh with the rest of the movie. Ricky Gervais (whose character has a name I can't remember, because it doesn't matter) has invented lying in a world where no one has ever conceived of not telling the absolute truth. In the process, he told his dying mother a lie about where she would go after (Heaven), it gets overheard and, suddenly, the entire world wants to know what he knows. So, he makes up this story about a Big Man in the Sky and it becomes a sketch that you could title "The Invention of God." It's a funny few minutes of the movie, but it never really pays off and is only there because it's funny to make fun of the insanity of religious thought. Which is fine with me. The moment where everyone learns that 'God' is responsible for bad stuff and the first reaction is "I say fuck the Big Man in the Sky!" is something I can't help but laugh at.

Despite this odd misstep (in the sense of working that bit into the rest of the movie well), I enjoyed The Invention of Lying. It's really your typical romantic comedy with a clever premise. Ricky Gervais is basically himself as a lacklustre screenwriter whose area of focus is the 14th century -- since, in this world, all scripts are based on factual events and are written for someone to simply read to the camera. That alone was clever enough to win me over. The movie begins with him going on a date with Jennifer Garner, who is hot and... actually, I don't think she possesses another positive quality. In fact, no one really possesses any positive qualities. The point of the movie seems to be that, without lies, we'd all be fucking assholes to one another. Everyone is mean and critical, rarely saying anything positive about another person, often revealing themselves to be miserable. Is that how we all are really?

One flaw I really had was that this wasn't simply a world where everyone says what they really think, this is a world where everyone blurts out what they really think. Under one defition, you could say that this is simply adhering to the idea of lying by omission, but I'm not sure that really holds up since that concept of lying is based upon knowing what a lie is. Here, the difference is that people don't say anything that isn't true (except for opinions, but, even then, they don't disguise what they really think)... but you'd think they would have learned to simply not blurt shit out. I mean, why would a waiter feel the need to ask out a woman when he wouldn't say a lie to cover up the desire to do so? He'd simply not say it. Having characters just blurt things out is a way to make the movie funnier, of course, but it took me out of the movie somewhat at first, showing off the artiface and effort of reaching for the jokes.

Later in the movie, the emphasis is placed on the idea that Jennifer Garner loves Ricky Gervais, but won't marry him because of his genetics, instead she's going to marry Rob Lowe because he's handsome despite him being a douchebag. It's typical romantic comedy fare with it laid bare on a superficial level, but it never rings true. There's this idea that despite all of his success and, basically, being God's prophet, Ricky Gervais is nonetheless a loser, while Rob Lowe is a winner even though I can't imagine anyone would be able to spend more than two minutes with him before they decided to beat him to death. They approach other arguments for what would make a good husband/father than simple genetics, but never pull the trigger: namely that someone who will love his wife and kids, and help raise the kids to be decent, caring people is better than being a goodlooking douchebag. Then again, maybe that's just what I wanted to see.

Jennifer Garner ultimately chooses having fat, pig-nosed babies with Ricky Gervais, but I was left wondering why he was so hung up on her aside from her looks. She's fairly stupid and superficial throughout the movie, only liking Gervais once he had money and power. Maybe that's the point: Gervais falls prey to the same traps that Garner does, but has no one to point out that, yeah, she's just a female Rob Lowe, except less openly obnoxious (slightly).

Despite the larger plot problems, there are some good laughs in here. The scene where Gervais is in a bar trying to explain how he said something that wasn't to Louis CK and Philip Seymour Hoffman is genius: he keeps saying lies and they reshape their subjective realities to suit whatever lie he tells them.

If anything, The Invention of Lying seems like a dry run for a better movie ten or twenty years from now that 'adapts' it, but decides to really go with the concept and forget the bullshit love story.

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