In a world of absolute honesty, a well-placed lie is all it takes for a schlub like Ricky Gervais (L) to get wealth, fame and attractive ladies.
The Office and Extras creator Ricky Gervais’s co-directorial debut is essentially the anti-Liar Liar. Where that Jim Carrey vehicle put an unwillingly honest man in a world that runs on lies big and small, Gervais here plays a schlub of a screenwriter who lives in a world where the idea of telling an untruth has never crossed anyone’s mind — there isn’t even a word in their language for “lie,” or “truth” for that matter. The idea of someone saying something that isn’t literally true is simply unheard of. After a series of humiliations, Gervais has an odd synaptic misfire which gives him the ability to make things up, an ability that puts him on the path to wealth, fame and success.
Most of the humour in The Invention of Lying comes from hearing characters speaking the whole, unvarnished truth, regardless of how it reflects on them. At the start of a date, Jennifer Garner tells Gervais that she dreads how the night will go, given that he’s unattractive and unworthy of her. Plus, Gervais interrupted her masturbation session, which makes for an awkward start to the night. Apparently, the truthfulness of this world includes even lies of omission.
While these jokes do eventually wear thin — there’s a fine line between truthfulness and assholishness, and characters like Tina Fey as Gervais’s secretary and Rob Lowe as his screenwriting rival cross that line with ease — Gervais’s script (co-written with Matthew Robinson) still gets a lot of mileage from the conceit. As a high-concept comedy, Invention gets to cover a lot of ground, from commercialism to religion and societal conventions. Fortunately, Gervais actually has insight into most of those issues, which means the film never gets overly sanctimonious. In fact, some of the best jokes come from the corporate world — an ad for Coke has the slogan “Coca Cola: It’s Very Famous,” while Pepsi uses “Pepsi Cola: For when they don’t have Coke.”
Even when dealing with issues like the origin of religion, Gervais maintains a light touch. Invention is a world away from his awkward, cringe-inducing TV work, which may throw off longtime fans, but is probably a bright move all around. Watching The Office’s David Brent or Extras’ Andy Millman flub their way through life is fine in half-hour doses, but it can actually become stressful in longer doses. The Invention of Lying is a different beast entirely, a warm, friendly comedy with brains behind it. I might want to take back that Liar Liar comparison — accurate as it is, Invention deserves better.