Imagine living in a world where there’s no such thing as flattery, deceit or fiction. I’ll tell you one thing for sure, Hollywood wouldn’t exist and politics would be way less interesting. Retirement homes are called A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People and Pepsi’s advertising slogan might read: “Pepsi, For When You Don’t Have Coke.” This is the world British comedian Ricky Gervais created as the setting for his directorial debut, a strange romantic comedy called “The Invention of Lying.”
The story is quite simple even if the ideas that lie just beneath the surface aren’t. The film is set in an alternate reality, a Norman Rockwell world where no one has ever told a lie. People speak their minds because they are incapable of fibbing. A waiter might say, “I took a sip of your drink,” as he drops a Margarita at your table. Gervais is Mark Bellison a screenwriter who specializes in transcribing 13th century history—remember, there’s no fiction—for films. After unconsciously telling the first lie and inadvertently inventing religion he becomes a celebrity, but will this strange power be enough to win the heart of Jennifer (Jennifer Garner)?
The Invention of Lying sounds like a one joke wonder, and on some levels it is, but it’s a good joke and Gervais as co-writer, director and star brings enough subtext to the story to keep up interest.
Nestled away under the obvious jokes is a healthy dollop of social commentary. Gervais uses the premise of total honesty all the time to shoot satirical arrows at religion (his version of God is “The Man in the Sky”), advertising and social niceties. The satire is sharp, particularly in the first half hour as we get to know the characters. The balance of the film has many laughs and makes some pointed observations before becoming ever so slightly bogged down by the romance and the beyond blatant product placement.
Who knew a Pizza Hut box could stand-in for one of the Ten Commandment tablets? That scene is the most shameless bit of product placement seen on screen, maybe ever.
On the plus side Gervais has assembled not only a strong leading cast—Jennifer Garner sparkles and Louis C.K. is very funny—but also a laundry list of unexpected cameos. I won’t spoil the fun, but look for a Sarah Palin look-a-like and a mustachioed bit-part from an actor not known for his sense of humor.
“The Invention of Lying” could have used a little less product placement but by and large Gervais has created a pleasant and surprising rom com that’ll make you think about all those little white lies you tell every day.