In The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais plays Mark Bellison, who lives in a world where lying doesn’t exist. A world where even the simplest of pleasantries is a blunt, TMI-heavy exchange. A world where no one is under any illusions about their place in society, or what their worth might be. A world where — ready? — even movies are entirely non-fiction affairs.
When Mark stumbles across the concept of saying something that simply isn’t true, his universe changes instantly. As we see him cheer up his portly, suicidal neighbor (Jonah Hill), write a blockbuster (fictional) screenplay and turn his fortunes around (read: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous) — all thanks to his new-found skill — so begins his evolution toward life as we know it. Set against this parallel, deception-free universe, Mark’s increasing contrast forces a reconsideration of the fundamentals of our day-to-day communication.
Lying, which arrives on DVD this week, hinges on a simple premise. With gentle humor and disciplined writing, Gervais, who co-directed and co-wrote the film with Matthew Robinson, takes aim at the basics of society, stripping away the last scrap of politesse to make the point loud and clear. When everything from ordering steak to calling in sick at work is a moment of truth, the power of well-meaning “white” lies is glaringly obvious.
But before you despair for our lie-ridden, manipulative society, there’s a little silver lining. Amid all the soul-baring and harsh realities (Mark’s love interest repeatedly points out his less-than-ideal looks, and particularly his stubby nose), Mark also reveals where lying intersects with faith — and that it’s not such a bad thing to give people something to believe in, even if he’s making it up and channeling Moses (just swap tablets for pizza boxes). It’s his faith that ultimately guides him on his quest to win over Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner), his object of affection from Brad Kessler, the narcissistic, good-looking guy (Rob Lowe), and it’s learning the ability to see the best in people that lets Anna do some soul-searching.
While Gervais can more than hold his own on screen, his co-stars help realize his vision for the story with flat, funny portrayals of brazenly honest, everyday people. Garner is perfect as the Polyanna-ish career woman who’s open about being out of Mark’s league, and suffers with the belief that her future mate must share her good genetic fortune. Veteran Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan plays Mark’s aged mother with a dry wit balanced by maternal sentiment, while Tina Fey has a cameo as Mark’s disgruntled assistant, Shelley.
The DVD for The Invention of Lying brings even more to the experience, with outtakes, deleted scenes and a segment called “Prequel: The Dawn of Lying,” among other fun features. More importantly, though, the extras allow for time to mull over the film’s bittersweet story, offering enough wit to take the edge off of its significant revelation.