'The Invention of Lying' truly funny

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'The Invention of Lying' truly funny

"Here's to sharing a limo with Jennifer Garner!" Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner and Louis C.K. star in 'The Invention of Lying.'

Whenever stuck in the conversational doldrums, I'll bait someone to say something like, "I want the truth," so I can indulge myself in repeating one of Jack Nicholson's most memorable lines, "You can't handle the truth!"

General results are frustration, amusement and scorn. But the quotation is not without philosophical merit, questioning how people handle truth and, more specifically, if they even wish to do so.

The brilliant new comedy The Invention of Lying tackles this question and others, delivering a fresh concept with expert timing for one of the most original - and funny - films of the year.

Co-written and co-directed by Ricky Gervais (TV's The Office and Extras) and newcomer Matthew Robinson, it's also a thoughtful film, touching on the subjects of love, faith and religion - concepts that are second nature to humanity, but questionable all the same.

The Invention of Lying takes place in an alternate reality, in which no human has ever told a lie. Not only is it unfathomable, but said humans simply cannot do so. As narrator and lead character Mark Bellison (Gervais) explains, telling the truth is simply their nature. There's not even a word for "truth," which would insinuate the existence of an opposite.

On the bright side, there's no pretense, misgivings or confusion, since everyone is frank, and oftentimes brutally. On the dark side, it easily deflates one's self esteem - especially if they're not quite attractive, unemployed and perpetually single.

Bellison is all three until something happens - he lies. Not quite sure how he did so, but ecstatic with the notion, Bellison learns that the remaining populace, still gullible as ever, is willing to believe even the most outlandish fibs, for instance, convincing his downtrodden best chum (comedian Louis C.K.) that he's an African American Eskimo lion-tamer.

Bellison begins to turn things in his favor, solving his financial woes, regaining his job and managing to score a second date with the perky and admittedly out-of-his-league Anna (Jennifer Garner, Juno). The world is practically at his fingertips, malleable in any way he sees fit, and he soon learns to use his newfound talent for good, be it talking a depressed neighbor (Jonah Hill, Superbad) out of suicide with a promise of "It'll be O.K.," or offering hope to the residents of the aptly titled "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People."

However, when Bellison attempts to comfort a resident on her deathbed with the promise of an afterlife filled with loved ones and perpetual happiness, he accidentally invents religion.

Bellison becomes an overnight sensation as the man who knows what happens after death, and, at the mercy of a demanding public, he's left with little choice but to embellish his lie, creating the "Man in the Sky" and a list of rules for the wellbeing of society. His story snowballs, and before he knows it, he's changing society as a whole, controlling the way people behave, and not always for the better.

Here The Invention of Lying gleefully dances on thin ice, flaunting a storyline that will likely upset its more religious viewers, but never going so far as to insult or belittle one's beliefs. It rather serves as commentary on faith and organized religion, and quite cleverly at that - a bold move on the studio's part.

Lying finds Gervais at his self-deprecating, uncomfortable best, and a host of celebrity cameos, including Edward Norton (Fight Club), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Big Lebowski) and Jason Bateman (TV's Arrested Development), brings a delightful addition to an already solid cast. Garner delivers a pleasantly fun performance, while Rob Lowe (Wayne's World) is amusingly cruel and shallow as Bellison's workplace foil.

Most notable, though, is the bizarre world that Lying depicts. The blatant truthfulness of it all seems so alien and far removed that it borders on science-fiction, and laughs run rampant as a result. These are all identifiable characters, many of whom we've befriended, worked or even dated, but the difference is they're saying what we're only thinking. And maybe we're better off for it.

It's an intelligent comedy, refreshingly devoid of the raunch and bathroom humor that now seem to dominate the genre. Its only fault, perhaps, is some not-too-subtle product placement. Were I to say otherwise, well, I'd be lying.

The Invention of Lying, rated PG-13 for language, including some sexual material and a drug reference, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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