The Invention of Lying, which was released on DVD Tuesday, is surprising in two ways. The first is that it’s very touching for a so-called “comedy.” The second is that it isn’t very funny. The latter is especially surprising because it’s starring the brilliant Ricky Gervais who has recently enjoyed success in mainstream America (even though he has been popular since 2001 in the U.K. for creating The Office). His mainstream American success began during the 2008 Emmy Awards during his segment with Steve Carell (video can be found at the end of this article).
Since this segment, Ricky Gervais has become somewhat of a star, even hosting the 67th Golden Globe Awards and generating some pretty big laughs. His comedy is edgy, taboo, and offensive without being in-your-face, loud, or an R-rated raunch-fest.
So what makes this movie surprisingly touching?
Ricky Gervais has created somewhat of a comedian’s manifesto in The Invention of Lying. For those that don’t know the plot, it is set in a world where nobody can tell a lie. That means that there aren’t any prospects. There’s no hope. There’s no tact. There’s just despair because people can’t lie to themselves either. They can’t have any ambition to be better.
This goes to the heart of a comedian. Generally speaking, comedians are simultaneously the most cynical and idealistic individuals. They are cynical because they accept this harsh reality where everything’s miserable. But in this harsh reality, they see a tiny glimmer of hope, much like Gervais’ character, Mark Bellison. The tragedy isn’t that the world is doomed, or that Mark sees the harsh reality of it; it’s that he’s still idealistic even though every bone in his body and everything in reality is telling him not to be. That’s the comedian’s struggle, which is where the old adage of the “tears of a clown” comes from.
The movie does a very good job at documenting his struggle, which makes for an interesting love story between Mark and Jennifer Garner’s character, Anna McDoogles (what kind of name is that?). He tries to give the world hope and is unsuccessful in doing so, and Anna is his unrequited love. The underlying pain that Mark feels seems to come from the fact that he kind of hates himself for still loving her knowing that it’s a hopeless situation.
This is all poignant and makes for a very interesting story, but it doesn’t leave much room for laughs and comedy. As a premise of a comedy, a world where nobody can lie seems like it’d be funny for a short sketch or a standup comedy routine, but not for a 90-minute film. The joke loses mileage quickly and the movie ceases to feel like a comedy at all. In fact, The Simpsons has already done a similar storyline where the entire town acts like Bart Simpson and the townspeople say whatever is on their minds. That storyline lasted less than 20 minutes, and if it had gone any longer, it probably would’ve lost its luster, too.
So as a movie, The Invention of Lying seems too schizophrenic to recommend. It’s much too dramatic to be a funny movie, yet is labeled as a romantic-comedy. Maybe this would’ve worked better as a drama or a character study.
P.S. Ricky Gervais is still brilliantly funny.
For Anaheim residents that would like to rent this film, they can do so at this local Blockbuster.
If you like this article and would like e-mail notifications of future articles, please click on the “subscribe” button on top.