Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Invention of Lying (2009) [PG-13] ***

Mark (Ricky Gervais) is a screenwriter with unremarkable looks and intelligence, and little hope for his professional future. He lives in a present-day parallel world, one in which everyone believes everything they are told, a world without flattery, pretense or fiction, a world in which no one lies or even understands the concept of lying. Everyone is so used to being told the literal, sometimes brutal, truth that they've become desensitized and numb. In this world, Mark has been infatuated with Anna (Jennifer Garner) for years, and when he finally calls on her for their first date, the conversation consists of the frankest possible discussion about everything from physical appearance to financial prospects to embarrassingly private activities.

Mark works at Lecture Films, a film studio that produces the factual equivalent of movies: men in smoking jackets reciting historical facts. He writes scripts about the 14th century Black Plague, but his writing is so boring and depressing, he is soon fired. After a night of drinking with a friend, Mark is awakened by his landlord demanding $800 rent money. The bank's computer is down, and, inexplicably, Mark tells the teller he has $800 in his account (he really has only $300), and the teller believes him. Using his newly-discovered talent for lying, Mark pretends he's found a long lost sci-fi/fantasy epic about the 14th century, that includes Martians and Amazons. He becomes a great storyteller, getting his job back in the process, along with fame and fortune.

One night, as Mark's mother (Fionnula Flanagan) lies dying in her retirement home, she confesses to him her fears about an eternity of nothingness. Compassionately, Mark describes a wonderful afterlife in which she spends an eternity with all of her friends and loved ones, living in a beautiful mansion, in a youthful body without disease, pain or aging. Mark has been overheard, however, and soon his home is surrounded by the news media and the curious and fearful, all seeking comfort and reassurance. Like Moses coming down from the Mount, Mark gives it to them, written on two pizza-box tablets, describing a man in the sky as the all-knowing controller of their lives, rewarding good and punishing evil. But will the new Mark be able to convince Anna that he's the man for her?

Co-written and co-directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, this is a thought-provoking comedy that asks us to consider the meaning of truth, the inspirational value of a lie, our need for religious authority figures, and our willingness to believe whatever they tell us. Co-starring Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Rob Lowe and Tina Fey, the film is reminiscent of Groundhog Day, Pleasantville and The Truman Show, although it fails to take the creative risks that these three films took, and so is only a pale imitation of what it could have been. 

Labels: comedy, fantasy, romance    
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 58/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=59, viewers=50)    

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