Brandon's Word: The Invention of Lying is a Landmark Comedy
by Brandon Lee Tenney
October 3, 2009
Sometimes there are film premises, mere loglines, that cause me to clench my jaw and flush green with jealousy due to their brilliance. Usually, the premises' brilliance is born of its simplicity. And The invention of Lying is brilliant. And, on the surface, it is simple. The film takes place in an alternate world where humans have not evolved with the capacity to lie. Humans are incapable of saying anything that is not -- no matter how callous, inappropriate, or self-deprecating. That is, until Mark Bellison, played by the incomparable Ricky Gervais, tells humankind's first lie. Simple. Deceptively simple.
At first, The Invention of Lying plays out as a farce, using the simplicity of its plot to acclimate the audience to its parallel universe. Clever jabs at advertising, everyday social interactions, and a very cathartic helping of wish fulfillment (where characters, due to their inability to lie, say exactly what we all have so often wanted to say in situations that, under normal circumstances, would make the very utterance of anything similar absolutely forbidden) are all equally funny. But when Mark Bellison's brain changes and the first lie of the film, the first lie ever in his world, is told, the film begins to slide down a very steep, very slippery slope -- one that, until the end, you weren't even aware it was perched on at the start.
About midway through the film, the farce gracefully takes a step back, yielding the stage to a genius, refined satire of religion in tandem with an exaggerated portrayal of the world's first chronic liar. In the film's world, religion has never existed because, as the film implies, religion is a lie; rather, religion is an unknown and to speak of it requires an amount of faith in something that isn't concrete and therefore can not exist in a world of absolute certainty. So, with the introduction of lying, Mark Bellison is able to single-handedly create religion -- in the film's case, he creates Christianity. Of course, Bellison doesn't create it knowingly. But by doing so, he becomes what we know to be a prophet, and what the people in the film think to be the smartest, most insightful man on the planet who is able to speak to a man in the sky who controls everything and is kind of dick. Bellison even imparts his own commandments, though etched on something a bit less sturdy than tablets. From this point, the film becomes a non-stop lampoon of religion. From its very sweet, innocent beginnings that provided comfort to someone close to Bellison (for its inception was born of love) to the religion's absolute power over the entire world's population, the film doesn't pull any punches. But The Invention of Lying is never mean-spirited.
Because this is a fantasy inhabited by characters who are wholly not of our world, even though the very blatant admonishment of religion is there, it's always balanced by the more surface level commentary on the problem with lying in general. The snowball effect of Mark Bellison's super power (which his ability to lie very much is) is always at the forefront. And Ricky Gervais plays the character with enough victimization that the whole thing never feels unbalanced. For the most part, he uses lies to help others and get ahead in his career, while struggling to win Anna McDoogles's heart, who finds him unfit, phenotypically speaking. Opposite Gervais, Jennifer Garner plays Anna McDoogles with such sweetness that the increasingly cynical Bellison is always foiled. And she's always in control, even though Bellison could at any moment lie to her in order to get what he wants, doing so would rob him of what he actually wants: for her to like him of her own accord. Bellison seems to immediately inhabit of a sense of great responsibility (after a few mistakes) as he realizes what great power he possesses.
Overall, The Invention of Lying is a complex, landmark comedy that weaves a love story around a social and religious satire without ever losing the funny. Because, after all, it is a comedy -- and co-writers/co-directors Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson never forget that fact. It's heartfelt without being sappy; it's honest without being mean (except when other characters are talking to Mark Bellison, because then it can be downright cruel -- but since Ricky Gervais wrote the thing and it's his character that everyone takes the piss out of, it's an hilarious, strangely satisfying sadomasochistic skip). And it's always surprising. Like I said: deceptively simple. Honestly, sincerely, brilliantly sublime. A comedy able to hold its own against my favorites of all time: Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Caddyshack, Dr. Strangelove, and Old School.
It's such a pleasure to go into a movie to laugh, to actually laugh throughout, and to leave laughing still, but chewing on something more substantial, mulling over the implications of what was just seen. The Invention of Lying enables this. Well played, Gervais. And damn you for creating such genius. (Just thought I'd be honest.)
Reader Feedback - 32 Comments
1st. this was the funniest comedy all year
daniel on Oct 3, 2009
Gervais the Genius 🙂
butter on Oct 3, 2009
I really do like Ricky Gervais and I can't wait to see this movie. This review made me more excited to see it now! Hope it does well.
Samantha on Oct 3, 2009
All I heard was that is was an anti-Christian farce of a 'comedy'. Thanks for the tip, though!
Vegegeeta-geeta on Oct 3, 2009
alternate universe? Anti-Christian humor? Ricky Gervais? how could you not want to watch this movie!
DoomCanoe on Oct 3, 2009
Shuriken on Oct 3, 2009
Daniel... when you die, I'm going to rush to the cemetery and piss all over your grave. Then I'm going to yell out "FIRST!". With that out of the way, I'm surprised I've not heard any of the crazy religious morons that come out of the woodwork whenever a film pokes even a little bit if fun at religion, let alone makes a whole movie out of it. Maybe I just haven't been paying enough attention. I do try to ignore those people whenever possible...
Squiggly_P on Oct 3, 2009
@7, the same happens when something has a little pro religious stuff in it. You get atheists going crazy. *shrug* Both sides have some nutty people. I'm interested in seeing this though. Especially with the good review. 🙂
Sabes on Oct 3, 2009
The first third was a funny albeit stolen premise from Liar Liar. The rest of the movie presupposes an atheistic point of view which personally I found quite preachy and bothersome. An intellectually dishonest cheap-shot at religion from outspoken atheist Ricky Gervais. Another "Bill Maher"-esque propaganda film from leftist Hollywood. I'm glad this movie tanked.
nate on Oct 3, 2009
I would really like to see this movie, but I have to say something else. I knew right away when I was reading this that it was written by Brandon. I'm no writer so take what you want from this. I can never finish reading anything Brandon has to say. It's something about your writing style. I lose interest immediately and cannot take you seriously. I just had to say it. Thank you.
richard on Oct 3, 2009
have you seen in The Loop? that movie is a landmark comedy as well, for the same reasons as you stated above.
samir on Oct 4, 2009
The religious aspect is handled rather well. There really isn't anything that offensive in the film. Most jokes that one might consider blasphemy usually occur because of the diagetic society's strange attempts to understand the concept of what the "Man In The Sky" actually does. And if you wholeheartedly believe the film is claiming religion to be an outright lie (which it very well might be), you have to give Gervais credit for recognizing that religion brings people hope, morality, and purpose in what would otherwise be a free-for-all existence. He's no Woody Allen, but his characters do reflect this philosophy, no matter how simply they represent it. Also, if you don't consider artistic intent (Gervais is indeed atheist), Invention of Lying could easily be interpreted as pro-Christian; something I don't intend to explain in a blog comment. But beside the fact that religion is created in a movie about lying, the religion created is rarely, if ever, represented in a negative light. If anything, I consider it more of an exploration of Christianity than a denouncement.
Matt Larner on Oct 4, 2009
I'm a Christian, but not the kind that get easily offended. Thank you to #12 for explaining exactly how the movie handles the religious examination. Although I don't get easily offended (you really CAN'T if you're a fan of movies) I tend to avoid movies that stomp on and belittle my beliefs. However, having read the comments here, I can say I'll more than likely check this one out, not only because it's a cast and director I respect, but because I love to see different sides of the spectrum when it comes to my own beliefs...
Korm on Oct 4, 2009
daniel on Oct 4, 2009
This movie was horrible. I saw it Friday night and the only thing that made the viewing enjoyable was the flask I smuggled in. It felt like half a movie. The premise was gold but the execution was hit and miss. The love story was a stretch and I felt nothing for the two of them. The laughs were mixed. I saw Hangover again this weekend...clearly head and shoulders better than the Invetion of Lying.
Geoff on Oct 4, 2009
To tell the truth, I about fell asleep through the movie. Was drawn out and quite boring. The best part was seeing Edward Norton have a cameo in there.
Trevor Pearson on Oct 4, 2009
This movie was awful. And Jennifer Garner is way too obviously suffering from anorexia.
Underscore on Oct 4, 2009
Richard, obviously youre "no writer". Because you dont appreciate an amazing review, OR a good movie for that matter. go fuck yourself <3
T on Oct 4, 2009
I saw the trailer again the other day and they couldn't disguise the fact that it was a movie premise that could have been clever, but they obviously threw in some pointless romantic comedy crap. I loved Gervais in The Office and Extras, but he just doesn't translate to movies.
Greedo on Oct 4, 2009
THIS MOVIE WAS CRAP!!! Are all of you people serously telling the truth? Or just wanting to agree that it was funny because one guy from this website liked it? I mean I am shocked here, did everyone see a different movie than me? the story line and premise was great and original but this movie FAILED it didn't know if it was a slapstick comedy, a romantic comedy or what. Which is why it failed across all 3. The first half seemed great and funny but they should have kept it edgy and not kept pulling back and slowing it down so much. It was way too long, and all of the friends (and most of the theater) that were with me all seemed to hate it. I encourage everyone to grow a pair, and have the balls to not just agree blindly when such a horrible movie is made!
skeptic on Oct 4, 2009
Ricky Gervais is awesomely funny, I can't wait to see this movie. It is an interesting concept - to be born without the capacity to lie. That would mean you never have to say things like "really?" or "are you sure?"
Emily Wilkes on Oct 4, 2009
I disagree with almost every review this website puts out...except for this one. I wouldn't call IoL a Landmark comedy, but it could have been with some plot tweaking and better pacing.
Matt Larner on Oct 5, 2009
This movie has had awful reviews. Are they all wrong?
snickers on Oct 5, 2009
I thought it was funny and enjoyed it very much. I've recommended it to people because it is a good laugh. I probably won't see it again and won't watch it on DVD unless smeone gets it for me. Gervais is funny but I've seen his stand up and this character was too close to his character in Night at the Museum. It's a nice change of pace from Will Ferrell though. All in all I liked it a lot. I woudn't call it a landmark comedy though.
risk on Oct 5, 2009
I completely agree with #20. So much potential but just came up short in so many ways.
liminals on Oct 5, 2009
funny? sure "landmark comedy"? yeah, okay. this is a ridiculous post.
pm on Oct 5, 2009
@23: awful reviews? the rewviews i've read have all been positive. as for people saying 'yay' or 'boo' to atheism, is it really that important? do any atheists let his beliefs affect whether or not he sees bruce almighty or the passion of the christ? No! (but dont see bruce almighty, whatever your religious persuasion) as for people saying the premise is good, what are you on? i cant get my head around it cause its ridiculous to think our world could exist in that way, there is no logic to it. it would turn me off the flim entirely if gervais wasnt involved (if you think the US office is better than the original you are stupid).
bananagrabber on Oct 7, 2009
Why is it that every review you have written reflect the exact thoughts that I am thinking? You're amazing.
T on Oct 12, 2009
i saw this movie and i really enjoyed it..
Robert on Jan 15, 2010
"Overall, The Invention of Lying is a complex, landmark comedy that weaves a love story around a social and religious satire without ever losing the funny " High praise indeeed. Do you really believe that? As a reviewer for a popular movie site I thought perhaps you'd have seen more, y'know, movies? Don't get me wrong - this is not a personal attack on your goodself or Mr Gervais, whose TV shows I love... It's just that this movie is far from complex, I felt little or no emapathy with any of the characters, the jokes were predictable and the final outcome was, to me, an overly-simplistic, moralising tale that failed to move me in anyway, other than feeling slightly dissapointed. In the Loop is a landmark comedy. The Hangover is far funnier and The Life of Brian combined religious satire and comedy with greater success. Hopefully this just a dud in an otherwise fantastic career. I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but such gushing praise really does seem over-the-top at best, and at worst quite deceptive.
Ally on Jan 18, 2010
I really enjoyed this movie. It reminded me of comedies like Being There and Harold and Maude. Comedies that made you think. You don't have to laugh every 90 seconds for a movie to be a comedy. As for the atheism, Gervais makes a brilliant point. Whether or not you believe in the afterlife sometimes you wish you could, if only to push away the cosmic loneliness.
movie genius on Feb 18, 2010
First rule to understand Gervais: Quit your god. wise choice with plenty of benefits. Already godless and still not laughing? Cut bananas and reduce carrots. Your anus deserves slimmer objects. Cheers Andre
Andre Aguilar on Jan 1, 2011
Sorry, new comments are no longer allowed.