Ever since I walked out of The Invention of Lying, feeling completely underwhelmed, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what went wrong. In the process, I’ve tried to pinpoint what went right and all I’ve come up with so far, are a few moments of sharp comic timing (which, given the cast, is completely expected) and the odd Gervais-ism that is funny simply because it’s Ricky Gervais. Which leads me to believe, through the powers of deduction, that what went wrong with this film was … pretty much everything.
Look, I love Ricky Gervais. Would marry him tomorrow if he asked, just so I could follow him around laughing. In my eyes there are very few things he can do wrong. But even I’m struggling to accommodate The Invention of Lying which lacked just about everything required to make a good comedy, including chemistry between the cast, a sharp script and any degree of cleverness.
The world in which we find Mark Bellison (Gervais), a chubby loser with a snub nose, is one in which people are incapable of telling a lie – and it would appear they are also incapable of holding anything back, which is problematic and logically unnecessary in general, but necessary for the script to work at all. They say it how it is with no regard for hurt feelings because, one would assume, if lying hasn’t evolved then nor has the ability to be hurt by the truth. I say assume, because for some reason, in 2009, seemingly tens of thousands of years since humankind began communicating with each other, one man has decided he has had enough of having his feelings hurt and of being one of life’s losers, and so says ‘something that isn’t’ purely for personal gain, and so the story begins.
Sort of. To say ‘begins’ implies some sort of life and flow and journey that has at least a beginning and an end and takes us all with it. And unfortunately, none of this pertains to The Invention of Lying.
The biggest problem was the flawed premise. It’s too big and too tired to simply meander through it, unsure of what part of truth, honesty, morals, right and wrong you want to comment on. It’s like the film’s creators were unsure of how they were going to approach the various concepts tied up in the idea, and said ‘let’s just see how we go.’ The result was a scattered treatment with no clear structure or commentary (and commentary is inescapable when discussing the merits of lying versus truth) and a lacklustre attempt at religious parallels. A few clever touches snuck in once Jesus entered the fray, but unfortunately the funniest part of that whole section of the story was Gervais’s wig – and when you’re laughing at wigs harder than you are dialogue, there’s a problem.
The cast, whilst rife with superstardom and talent, failed to deliver. Rob Lowe had a few funny moments, but was largely a caricature, one that was difficult to like or dislike beyond what the film dictated you had to do (dislike). Tina Fey was good, but potentially underused. Jennifer Garner was largely unlikeable – or, better put, failed to inspire any sort of feeling, not for any other reason than she was boring, and even the comedy stalwart of the lead’s best friend, played by Louis C.K., was completely fizz-less, as was the relationship between him and Gervais.
The sad thing is, this could have been done well. A more ruthless approach to the premise – what stays, what goes, what do we want to actually say with this film – would have been a good start. A tighter script with less toilet humour, more British subtlety would have been the next step. An entirely new female lead might also have been a good idea.
Overall, the film brings nothing new to the table. This is forgivable if the familiar points you’re making are made with wit and insight. However saying nothing new and walking well trodden ground without wit or insight is unforgivable. And for the man who brought us the groundbreaking comedy The Office it is especially so.
Get out of the USA Ricky. Go home, sharpen your teeth and come back to us the way we love you – raw, unafraid and diabolically funny.