Taking place in an alternate reality, The Invention of Lying centers on one man, named Matt Bellison (Ricky Gervais). Down on his luck, fired from his job and unable to pay his rent, Matt goes to the bank in order to empty his bank account. The bank servers are down though, so the teller just asks him how much is in his account. He tells her $800. The server comes online at this point, and states there’s only $300 in the account. The teller notes that this must be a banking error, and gives Matt his money. This is the first lie told on Earth.
Apparently nobody in this story has the capacity or ability to tell or spot a lie. That is, until that one lie that Matt tells. He then gains the ability to lie to anyone, whenever he wants. And since the people being lied to are unable to detect it, everyone believes him, even, at one point, stating that his word comes directly from a higher power.
He uses this to his advantage, shaping the world around him with his deceit. Initially, he helps people out, improving the lives of everyone he encounters. This is done through a montage of sorts, with accompanying music playing over whatever he says to everyone, meaning we don’t get to hear all of the fun little lies that he comes up with. Why this is done, I am not sure.
Anyway, eventually he realizes that instead of improving other people’s lives, he can begin to fix his own. This starts off innocently enough, with him just trying to get his job back and begin acquiring money again. As with many lies though, things escalate to something beyond his control, and he needs to continue lying in order to cover his own trail.
Oh yeah, and there’s also this girl that he wants to marry. Her name is Anna, and she is played by Jennifer Garner, who shows us that she doesn’t know how to time lines properly, even in a comedy where awkward timing could help make it more humorous. Surprisingly, Matt doesn’t use his powers of persuasion as much on her as one might initially think he would, as that would apparently go against his morals. Lying to everyone else at every opportune moment however, isn’t. He’s a strange character.
Unfortunately, he isn’t a character that we want to root for, or feel any affection towards. There are two moments in the film where I took a step back (metaphorically) and asked the TV (literally) if I was supposed to feel sorry for him. I honestly couldn’t tell if I was supposed to feel emotional, because I didn’t, even if Ricky Gervais’ fake tears were oh so convincing. (That last line was sarcasm, Gervais didn’t look the least bit upset).
This poses a secondary problem for the film to overcome. The Invention of Lying tries to mix in somewhat heavy drama/romance into its plot, instead of focusing solely on how Matt is going to abuse his powers of deception. Matt spends a great deal of time trying to woo his lady friend, with her rejections being as bluntly put as everything else said by each character in the film not played by Ricky Gervais.
And yes, I’ll admit that there are many, many parts of the film that are funny. There are some moments where you’ll chuckle, but also some parts where you will actually laugh out loud. I was surprised at how humorous the film was overall, even if it had it’s boring moments, most of them occurring when too much emphasis is placed on the romantic aspect of the film.
Here’s something that did bug me though. None of the characters except for Matt are able to lie. The film makes this very, very clear. There is one scene where Garner’s character is talking to Matt on the phone. He asks her something that is uncomfortable, and she responds with “I gotta go”. She doesn’t; she’s sitting on her bed reading a magazine. This should constitute a lie, shouldn’t it? But no, apparently that’s okay, just because the filmmakers decided so.
The acting isn’t something to praise, but it’s primarily a comedy, so great, deep acting performances aren’t to be expected. Gervais can’t show much emotion and Garner doesn’t time her lines well. The supporting cast was fine, and with comedians such as Louis C. K, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill at your disposal, there are plenty of opportunities to make a humorous film.
In the end, I enjoyed The Invention of Lying, but not as much as I hoped I would. Yes, there were plenty of funny parts, but the forced romance between Matt and Anna slowed the film down, and was also boring. These parts lacked emotion and humor, dragging the rest of the picture down. The rest of the film was funny though, and I found myself laughing or chuckling more often than not. Not excellent, but likely worth a watch, especially if you are a fan of Gervais.