Ricky Gervais is something of a scene stealer, whether that's at awards ceremonies, on his stand up, or during little movie cameos. He's gained quite a following of diehard fans that love his tongue-in-cheek wry humor and his one-of-a-kind way of twisting dialogue. Gervais can make a sentence funny just due to his stammering, natural way of speaking. The words don't have to be funny; he's got it covered by himself. He also has a remarkable ability to mock himself, which becomes clear in his newest film The Invention of Lying. The characters in the movie – even the nice ones – constantly verbally flay Gervais with comments on his appearance, his weight, his intelligence, and being a 'loser.' Since he wrote the movie, he either has complete self-confident, or he's slightly masochistic.
Right up front, there is a singular problem with The Invention of Lying, and that's due to its current marketing. The previews make it look like it's a fun, possibly romantic, light comedy. An opposite Liar, Liar, set in a world where everyone can only tell the truth, and only Gervias can lie. Instead, this film is actually a satire discussing heavy issues such as fundamentalism in both science and faith – religion and evolution. It is smarter than you expect, and while thoughtful films should be openly embraced, the fact that the marketing on this movie seems so misguided makes me concerned for the film's well being. Plenty of people might see this movie expecting one thing, and come out of it feeling … tricked, perhaps. So here's the truth about The Invention of Lying: It's a comedy with a dramatic turn, with plenty of laughs and heart, but it does bring a slightly blasphemous point of view to the table. If you're sensitive to that, you may come out of it spitting mad.
Gervais plays Mark, a lovable loser in an alternate world where no one is capable of lying. It's not just that they always tell the truth; there's no politeness or social niceties. Everyone says what they think no matter what. So when the waiter admits he drank a little of the drinks he brought over, it's just how things are. When Jennifer Garner admits that she was masturbating, she isn't capable of holding that in. They all say exactly what they truly think at all times. Which can be hilarious, but also painful if you're chubby Mark. He has a job writing historical films at a movie company; there is no fiction, remember? Only truth, even in movies! He was given the Black Plague and cannot make it interesting, so he's preparing to be fired. His secretary Shelley (Tina Fey) and main rival Rob (Rob Lowe) torture him once he is fired, admitting they hate him and think he's nothing but a fat loser.
Mark is dealing with romantic distress as well, because he's been hopelessly infatuated with his best friend's cousin Anna (Jennifer Garner). She finally agreed to date him, but makes it clear there is no real future for them because of how he looks. She believes in genetic superiority and that her kids must have the best gene pool. When Mark gets threatened with eviction, he discovers the ability to lie (although it is never called that), and it turns his life around. Since everyone believes he is only speaking the truth as well, he can get away with outrageous things like claiming aliens and robot dinosaurs lived during the Black Plague so he can sell a big movie. At first this is a funny diversion, allowing him to make more friends and get huge amounts of money. When his mother dies, breaking Mark's heart, he tries to reassure her with promises of a heaven after death. This sets the truth world on fire, since his make believe heaven and "Man in the sky" change everything for them. Religion is born … but fame and money means nothing to Mark if he can't convince Anna to love him despite his genetic inferiority.
This movie has an impressive cast, with cameos by several actors that I don't want to spoil, but it's amusing every time one of them appears. Gervais is very popular in Hollywood, so it's no surprise he could convince a few people to show up for a scene. There are some genuinely hilarious laugh-out-loud moments in this movie. The entire scene where Mark brings out the 'tablets' with 'commandments' is downright hysterical. There is also a real dramatic turn for Gervais in this movie as he plays the death scene with Mark's mother to perfection, sparking tears in anyone who has lost a loved one, and his general heartbreaking sorrow in the entire film is rather endearing. Everyone else plays characters that are more one-dimensional and straight forward; they don't just only speak truth, it seems that's the only thing important about their lives. Garner is sweet and tormented as Anna, and Rob Lowe just bleeds smarm as the handsome jerk who proposes to Anna just to anger Mark.
Obviously, as stated before, this movie is a thinly veiled jab at religion and evolution. The latter is not as obvious, since religion is quite clearly a main part of it as soon as Mark lies about heaven and a God. The entire world seems better for it, however, even if it's all just a lie he told, although it does come with some problems since some 'losers' are just waiting for death so they can be happy. Evolution on the other hand comes a bit more subtly in the perception of Anna and Rob that only the genetically superior matter. Those that physically are inferior do not deserve to mingle with their betters, survival of the fittest only, and Anna struggles with knowing she loves Mark but shouldn't due to his lack of attractive attributes. The film seems to poke both, religion for being an elaborate (but comforting) lie and evolution for being a cruel (but honest) idea. It may get you thinking afterward, but depending on your own background and taste, the thinking could be radically different from the person sitting next to you.
In the end, The Invention of Lying is a funny comedy, and it's also a romance, a drama, and a social commentary. I have a sinking feeling that this movie might not do as well as it hopes in the theaters, mostly because of the possible backlash of both critics and moviegoers to indirect marketing. It's a solid film worth watching, but I won't be surprised if it has mixed reviews due to the misdirection and unspecific genre. Gervais is a brilliant comedian, and the romantic story in this is actually very moving, but a little more honesty from the get-go might've been nice.
The Invention of Lying is out in theaters now and rated PG-13 for language and sexual suggestion.