Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying is the funniest serious movie I’ve seen in years. There are many moments that will make you laugh out loud, but at its core, it’s also a smart meditation on faith, free will and happiness.

The movie opens with “chubby loser” Mark Bellison (Gervais) explaining that in his world, everyone tells the truth all the time. They know no other way. They don’t even have a word for “truth” or “true” because everything just is. This situation makes the first half hour of the movie ridiculously funny, with Jennifer Garner’s character, Anna, telling Mark exactly how she feels about him on their date, and a motel advertising itself as “A cheap place for intercourse with a near stranger.”

Courtesy Warner Bros./Sam Urdank

But after Mark utters the first lie out of desperation (he’d been fired and facing eviction from his apartment), he discovers what a truly awesome power he holds. He goes about making himself and others happy by feeding them lies, until one about “the man in the sky” gets way out of control. Everyone interprets this notion differently, making  Mark wonder if it brings people comfort or takes away their free will.

Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson, shows a side of him we’ve never seen before. In one scene, he exhibits such deep emotional pain, I had to keep reminding myself this is a man who’s always making me do the liquid-spewing laugh. But this is good, because he draws us in with the humor and then takes us to unexpected places.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Garner has never been lovelier than she is here. She imbues Anna with both the childlike innocence of someone with no edit button, and the confidence of the hot babe who knows she possesses excellent genetics. She has wonderful comic timing, cries beautifully, and is dressed in a wardrobe so fetching, I want to own everything she wears in the movie.

There are many comic superstars in the cast but most of them are underused. My idol Tina Fey is miscast as Mark’s assistant. She has such a take-charge vibe, I don’t buy her as anybody’s lackey. At first, Rob Lowe is quite funny as Brad, Mark’s rival for Anna’s hand, but his arrogant act becomes a little one-note after a while. Edward Norton has a wacky bit as a motorcycle cop, but Christopher Guest is frustratingly wasted.

There’s been some concern in the media that this movie might be offensive in its viewpoint but I feel that’s unwarranted. Gervais isn’t trying to make you believe anything; he’s simply showing a version of the world as he sees it and maybe provoke thought about some big ideas. You can choose to agree or disagree with him because hey, that’s free will. Or you can just look at it as a funny movie, which it is, and that’s the truth.

Nerd verdict: Lying isn’t perfect but still entertaining



  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    October 6, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Jennifer Garner lights up the screen, doesn’t she. She has that ‘Julie Roberts’ radiance. {I’m still upset that Alias finished.} Looking forward to this one, PCN ~ thanks as always for the informative review!

  • Reply
    October 6, 2009 at 5:46 am

    I had the Toy Story double feature last weekend, so I couldn’t make it to this (plus the W.H. Book Fair). I’m definitely going to see this this coming weekend, PCN. Thanks for the review!

    • Reply
      October 6, 2009 at 3:14 pm

      I really had as much fun as the kids with the TS 3-D double. The 3-D upgrade was solid, but not overly obvious – which is what Pixar’s Lasseter sought with this. He didn’t want it to detract from each film’s storyline. It was great. Plus, as you’d expect from Pixar, they had those really nice touches to the event. They included a 10 min intermission built in to the features. Their Trivia & Treat track to keep those who stayed seated during this quite entertained (with a countdown clock, to boot). Both films earned their accustomed applause from the movie audience. Definitely, find an excuse to take your nieces/nephew to this. Thanks, PCN.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2009 at 10:06 am

    I saw this one over the weekend and really enjoyed myself because Gervais’s world is always inhabited with some of the most daft and silly people.

    Invention of Lying should cause anyone to think a bit about the big picture.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the review! Hadn’t actually planned on seeing this one (not one for the major slapstick comedies) but it actually sounds pretty good! May have to try to make it to my local theater….

  • Reply
    Pop Culture Nerd
    October 6, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Shell, Jennifer Garner definitely has that movie-star radiance. I was a HUGE Alias fan, too. I ran into her once on the Disney lot (where Alias used to shoot) getting her own lunch in the cafeteria and she was friendly. She was dressed in kickass Sydney garb but kept smiling and waving at my baby nephew, who was with me. (My nephew is very cute.)

    lp13, let me know how you like it! How was the Toy Story double feature?

    Reader#9, isn’t it cool how a movie can make you laugh and then make you think?

    GMR, this movie isn’t slapstick at all. It’s smart humor so I hope you do check it out.

    • Reply
      Shell Sherree
      October 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm

      Oh, that’s a great story! I’m not surprised to hear JG’s as sweet in real life as I hoped. {Or to hear that your nephew is very cute!}

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Amen for your review. I totally wanted to see this movie but everyone I know who saw it HATED it, so, glad to hear that someone whose opinion I trust liked it. So, though I stopped reading your review midway through so as not to spoil anything, I will totally check out this movie now! Thanks!!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 7, 2009 at 11:35 am

      I find it really interesting that this movie has been so polarizing. Did your friends give specific reasons for hating it?

      You should see it and tell me what you think!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 11:00 am

    I saw this movie yesterday and really liked it. Didn’t have a chance to read your review before I saw it–though I had seen some comments about it being more serious than it appears though I didn’t know in what way. Thought it was funny (not uproarious), thoughtful, inventive, and touching. I know there are some who have been offended by it, but I think there’s a difference between mocking something (as I’ve heard it accused of) and simply offering a different perspective.
    One note: I went with a friend who recently lost her son to cancer, and if we’d known the subject matter, we might have waited to see it. Was a bit too soon for her.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 7, 2009 at 11:45 am

      Chris, I couldn’t agree with you more. I never felt Gervais was disrespectful.

      I’m very sorry to hear about your friend’s son. Oddly enough, I recently lost a friend to cancer and found the movie comforting. I guess this is another example of how it can affect people differently.

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Saw it last night with a friend. At least he was BEFORE the movie. Afterwards, we went out for coffee and got into a major argument because he claimed it was making fun of religion. I think all the movie does is ask you to consider that having religion, or rather a strong belief in something, doesn’t automatically make you a better person or ease your pain and suffering. How you interpret that faith and how it affects your day to day dealings in the world is what counts.

    We did have a much needed laugh when the couple next to us in the coffee shop, who had attended the same screening, didn’t get the religious undertones at all. They just thought it was funny overall and were amazed that Gervais could access tears like that.

    This movie made me laugh out loud and it made me think. Not a fan of the ending though. Wish it was less fluffy.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

      Oof, sorry to hear about the argument with your friend. Hope you’ve made up?

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Yesterday I went to see it and of course it was nice movie at all. In first two hours it made my belly dancing with its mocks. Yep, i think Ricky Gervais has done great job in this time. He has clear ability to amuse others. So it is not easy work anyway. Keep it up.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    I watched the trailer and I must admit the movie looks hilarious!
    But I’ll have to wait til March 2010 to have a chance to see it in theatres here!
    Talking about Ricky Gervais, he is surprisingly still unknown in France, and most of the few movies starring him that have been released here have gone unnoticed.
    Yet “Ghost Town” sounded funny!

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