I proclaim that this is one of the best films that has ever been made, and definitely one of the most profound masterpieces that has ever been shown on the big screen. (I am lying.)
In a world where no one has ever told a lie, everyone is honest to the point of brutality. At first, this works in the film as a humorous plot device, and the on-screen world is one in which people honestly tell you what they have been doing and how they truly feel about others. Because there is no “fiction,” movies are lectures about periods in history. British actor Ricky Gervais (HBO’s Extras) plays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter for Lecture Films. Bellison is considered unsuccessful at his craft, and his secretary (played by 30Rock’s Tina Fey) feels obligated to constantly remind him of his shortcomings and failures. This behavior is followed by his rival Brad Kessler (West Wing’s Rob Lowe).
Mark gets a date with Anna (Jennifer Garner of Alias)who helpfully informs him out of the gate that his lack of financial success and physical unattractiveness make it unlikely that they can ever connect romantically.
After Mark gets fired from his job, he is on the verge of being evicted because he can’t afford to pay his $800 rent. He has $300 in the bank, but when the computer system goes down, he tells the bank teller that he has $800 in the account. At that point, the system comes back on-line, and the teller sees that he only has $300 in his account. But since no one has ever lied before, the teller gives him the $800, under the assumption the bank has made an error.
When he visits his dying mother (played by Fionnula Flanagan of Showtime’s Brotherhood), Mark tells her a story about an afterlife where everything will be wonderful. His “lie” is overheard by some of the hospital staff, and inadvertently is the catalyst for religion coming into existence in this alternate world.
This is Gervais and Robinson groping to make their film profound by telling us that they believe religion and the afterlife are based on lies: since no one in the film’s world has ever told a lie, religion doesn’t exist and only comes into existence because of Mark’s lie to his ‘mum.’ The screenwriters further mock religion when Mark records his religious beliefs (lies) on two pizza boxes that are shaped like the typically-portrayed two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Mark becomes rich and famous due to these lies about the “man in the sky.”
The film, having no place else to go, becomes a question of whether and how Mark will get the girl (Garner). The performances are fine and the idea is interesting enough. The film also has its moments, but overall it was a stretch to make what might be a funny comedy riff into a 94-minute film.
“The Invention Of Lying,” written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson. With Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Fionnula Flanagan.
– Nat Trayger