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As films become more generic every year, it seems increasingly difficult to find a film with a truly unique premise. Especially in romantic comedies, which by their very nature are generic and safe. And yet in “The Invention of Lying,” writer/co-director and star Ricky Gervais (he of the brilliant British version of the Office) has crafted a genuinely original romantic comedy, both funny and poignant.
As the film begins, we are introduced to a world in which the very concept of a lie doesn’t exist. It’s not that people in this world are somehow physically prohibited from lying, like in Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar. It’s that they literally do not understand the concept of lying. If a statement is spoken, by nature it is truth. So what happens when somebody invents the idea of “saying what wasn’t?”
As Mark Bellison, Gervais brings an identifiable, everyman quality to the character. He is a recently fired screenwriter (in this world, films consist of people reading facts to the screen), resigned to the fact that he is not “genetically compatible” with Anna McDoogles, the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Garner). Once he discovers the concept of lies, he predictably utilizes this new power for his own gain. But whereas most films would stop here, letting him learn valuable life lessons and still get the girl, Bellison ends up affecting the world on a much grander scale.
Quite on accident, he ends up accidentally inventing religion. As he explains to the world the concept of “The Big Man in the Sky,” I began to realize how much bigger this movie is than initially expected. With the world reacting in a mixture of elation and terror, the film takes on a scale both epic and personal. And yet, it never loses sight of the love story between Bellison and McDoogles.
Much of the film’s humor comes from the very nature of the world itself. Since nobody lies, they’ve evolved an over-the-top bluntness. It isn’t simply an incapability of fiction, but rather, truth-telling to the extreme. Everybody shares everything they are thinking, and this is simply accepted. This is a world without regard for others feelings and Gervais mines the situation for everything he can. Rob Lowe and Tina Fey stand out as people completely comfortable with saying what is on their minds, no matter how insulting and offensive that may be. Garner also does a great job of this, but she mixes in an element of humanity to her portrayal.
In fact, the entire cast is terrific. Louis C.K. is hilarious as Bellison’s best friend who just can’t quite grasp the new concepts he is being presented with, and Jeffrey Tambor, Jonah Hill and even Phillip Seymour Hoffman show up in smaller, but equally funny roles.
It would have been nice if the extras were even remotely as entertaining as the film. One of the biggest and worst features is a (thankfully) deleted opening sequence…with cavemen (played by many of the film’s cast). It was embarrassing to watch, and would have felt completely out of place in the finished film. There is also a feature where the cast is interviewed about Gervais while showing footage of him screwing up take after take with his over-the-top laughter. I usually find these generic and forgettable, but this is one is downright annoying. I’m sure he’s a great guy to work with, but his “hyena laugh” was getting on my nerves after awhile. Rounding out the set are some more deleted scenes, 10 minutes of Gervais’ Video Podcast, and a feature about Karl Pilkington, Gervais’ best friend, as he prepares to shoot his scene as a caveman extra.
I wouldn’t recommend bothering with any of the extras. But the film is something special. It’s a rare romantic comedy with originality, genuine emotion, and humor. I highly recommend it.