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.”
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.
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