brent johnson looks at Rick Gervais’ first film as a movie director, The Invention Of Lying …
I was surprised by The Invention Of Lying, the film directorial debut of Ricky Gervais, the brilliant British mind behind the U.K. version of The Office.
The premise is smashing: Imagine a world where lying doesn’t exist. People say exactly what they’re thinking — that you’re fat and snub-nosed and not likely to get laid tonight. Then imagine what itmust be like to tell the first lie.
Gervais, who also stars as the man who imparts that initial fib, executes this premise well in in the clever-at-every-turn first half of the film. Especially in an incredible, must-be-seen scene that involves pizza boxes, ice cream, debates about murder, ‘horrible mansions’ — and the invention of God.
But what surprised me? It all was a bit too Hollywood for Gervais, a man whose previous work spat on formula. He’s a comic genius in the British Isles. A man who makes the awkward squirmingly funny — and who devoted an entire television show (Extras) to the idea that low,broad-based comedy isn’t really comedy at all.
With Lying, however, he ends up making a romantic comedy — albeit a romantic comedy with a setup that lampoons the idea of religion with ship loads of humor. But I didn’t expect ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by ELO to soundtrack a look-how-well-life-is-going montage — simply because that’s what you expect from rom-coms. I didn’t expect the second half of the movie to suddenly tout the idea that chubby little losers can get the girl if they prove that chubby little losers are better than fit clueless hunks — something you expect from Sandra Bullock. Not the man who turned TV into cinema and sitcoms into tragedy with The Office.
Maybe it’s wrong to dislike a film simply because it’s not what you expect from the director. (Woody Allen can tell you about that.) Maybe The Invention Of Lying deserves to be judged for what it is — a charming yet flawed funny film — and not for what it’s not.
But I was surprised, is all.
(On a side note, Gervais wins bonus points for getting my favorite artist, Elvis Costello, to cover my favorite Cat Stevens song, ‘Sitting.’ Gervais knows how to use music in his work. Just not ELO songs that have already been used in Role Models.)