Review: Invention of Lying (TIFF)
REVIEW: Ricky Gervais is a comedic genius. I think he's the truly great comedic voice of our time, and his two TV shows, THE OFFICE, and EXTRAS are instant classics. It's a shame that his film work so far has been somewhat underwhelming.
For the record, I enjoyed GHOST TOWN, but I was frustrated by the fact that he was shoehorned into a big budget studio comedy, when his TV work suggested he was capable of so much more. His latest, THE INVENTION OF LYING brings him closer to the level he achieved on TV, but it's still another example of him being put in a PG-13, "high-concept" studio comedy, an area where I'm not really sure he fits.
For me, THE INVENTION OF LYING was a truly frustrating experience, as there's a great deal of genius on display here. I bet that, in script form, this read as one of the smartest, most thought provoking comedies ever made. However, as a film, it doesn't quite hit the mark.
The performances are pretty good, with Ricky Gervais being as funny as ever, although I still can't quite buy him as a romantic lead, and his chemistry with Jennifer Garner is non-existent. For her part, Garner obviously does her best, but I've always thought she was better in dramatic roles than comedies, as she doesn't really (to me anyways), have the light touch necessary for a film like this. Tina Fey, who has a small role as Gervais' bitchy secretary, probably would have been much more effective in her role.
The supporting cast is pretty solid, with Rob Lowe making a suitably sleazy rival for Garner's affections, and Louis C.K, and Jonah Hill both effective as Gervais' buddies. There's also a lot of great cameos, with Edward Norton showing up as a coke addled traffic cop, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a boob-obsessed bartender, and Gervais' collaborators Shaun Williamson (better known as "Barry from EASTENDERS"), and Stephen Merchant, popping up in a funny flashback (I didn't spot Karl Pilkington, but supposedly he's in it too).
My big problem with the film is the execution. It's really badly directed and it's obvious that Gervais, and co-director Matthew Robinson, were trying to make what they thought was a typical, Hollywood rom-com. The problem is, it looks like the Hollywood comedies they studied were all the shit ones from the early nineties as the film is shot like one of those. Every scene is over-lit and the musical score is downright oppressive, as it's nonstop and goes way overboard at either trying to tug at the heartstrings, or acting as a pseudo laugh track, basically telling which scenes are supposed to be funny, and which aren't. Even the pop tunes are mostly predictable choices, with ELO's Mr. Blue Sky showing up in a comedy for the umpteenth time (it was even in PAUL BLART: MALL COP).
The crappy direction is really a shame, as under a steadier hand, THE INVENTION OF LYING could have been great. As it stands, it's still a good comedy, even if it does underwhelm somewhat. There are a lot of great ideas here, with Gervais' atheism coming into play here, as religion does not exist in a world without lies. I also liked the way that all the technology in the film seems like it's about ten years out of date- as I suppose he's trying to say that industry would not advance as quickly without lies. Even funnier is what Gervais imagines movies would be like in a world without lies, as they are pretty much filmed lectures, with professorial "stars" (the biggest being played by one of Gervais' chief inspirations, Christopher Guest) reading "scripts", which are basically dull accounts of history, stripped of any intrigue or drama.
In the end, THE INVENTION OF LYING is still a good comedy, but I'd like to see Gervais stop trying to make a studio blockbuster, and make something a littler smaller, and more personal (which he appears to be doing with his next film CEMETERY JUNCTION that re-teams him with Merchant with whom he always does his best work). It's still a pretty funny film, but nowhere near what it could have been.