At the Movies with Kevin: The Invention of Lying

Ricky Gervais has been widely regarded as a comic genius, but he proves to be a philosophical one with his insights in “The Invention of Lying.” His newest effort is filled with a vast number of poignant, intriguing observations, including those about religion, celibacy, truth, faith, and the afterlife. Although those subjects may seem to overlap, Gervais specifically illustrates distinctions within the context of their applications in this alternative world. “The Invention of Lying” is bold in dealing with these issues in a story that treats them with profound sincerity, which is often something that is not permitted in most modern day, dumb-down comedies. That said, this is also a consistently funny and clever movie about a man who will do anything other than lie to have the woman of his dreams accept him, and all of his physical and emotional faults, as the companion she has always wanted.

Gervais plays Mark, a pudgy man who lives in a world where humans have not evolved to the point where they possess the gene for lying. He works as a screenwriter at Lecture Films, a production company in which movies effectively show people sitting on a seat and simply reading straight from history without the ability to embellish. Obviously, these films are boring and say absolutely nothing about human nature, but there is hardly any other choice without the ability to illustrate deceit.

Mark is fired from his job and can no longer afford his luxurious living, forcing him to withdraw the final $300 from his account to hire movers. At the counter, he comes up with the brilliant idea of asking for $800 to pay his rent and the teller gives him the money, believing that the bank must have made a mistake in his account balance. The remainder of the film basically chronicles the manner in which he uses this discovery as a way to become rich, while still keeping enough integrity and dignity alive to be considered a decent individual by most standards.

Ricky Gervais exposes a vast amount about his acting talents in the film with some touching and dramatic moments that have not been revealed in his previous work. His writing talents were already well-respected with such efforts as the original interpretation of “The Office” on BBC , but the expansion of his acting here is a revelation. Gervais is often in the same scene hilarious, pathetic, boisterous, and sad without ever seeming like he is stretching for authenticity.

If is not clear by now, this film once again proves that Jennifer Garner is a real actress. She again plays a character whose sunny disposition hides much of the concerns that drive the direction of her life. This is somewhat similar to the character she played so brilliantly in “Juno.” I don’t want to make this sound like she is repeating her performance because this is a different character with a unique set of moral values in a completely alternate world. The one thing the characters do share is a similar smile that overwhelms internal turmoil constantly ravaging her psyche. The supporting performances are satisfactory, but I think the writing does them a lot of favors by regularly giving them sharp one-liners to rattle off at each other.

“The Invention of Lying” believes that religion would not be instituted if only truth were allowed. There has been a misconception that Gervais is then being condescending toward religion because of this view, but I believe it is the exact opposite. Gervais is actually saying that, whether or not you believe in religion, how can it be bad to have people believe in something that gives them peace and makes them live with a set of ethical principles in an effort to achieve a better afterlife?

The film also raises other questions that could point out some faults, such as: If nobody can lie, why do they have to speak about every brutally honest observation they have about one another? The answer is because then it would not be as funny. Also, wouldn’t being a genetic match be secondary to spending your life with the one you love, except for the assumption that science would be much more advanced without religion, because wouldn’t lying to your heart be just as detrimental? The answer to that is this is not tackled because then there would not be any conflict in the story.

Maybe I am thinking about these thoughtful issues too much, but with a film that contains this many deep insights, I do not think that is the case. Overall, these are minor quibbles. “The Invention of Lying” is funny and sweet, even if it is predictable, and the one question that must be asked is: Could you ask for anything more in a comedy?

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