Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TIFF 2009: The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying (U.S., 2009) directed by Ricky Gervais, 99 minutes at Elgin Theatre

This film is a one joke sketch which has been prolonged into a feature length film and a not so veiled satire about those who believe in organized religion. The British comedian Ricky Gervais is one of my favourite comedians but I feel he misses the mark here.

Mark (Ricky Gervais) is a self-described loser: overweight, no girlfriend, unsuccessful screenwriter, shabby apartment, no money. He inhabits a bizarre, fictional world where everyone always speaks the truth, always, no matter how brutal or painful. Hence, sadly, he knows exactly what everyone thinks of him all the time.

As a screenwriter at Lecture Films specializing in films of refined people reading the history of specific centuries, Mark has drawn the short straw and writes a screenplay about the 13th c. Sadly, the only notable event of that time is the Black Plague and apparently this is not a big film draw.

Mark's date Anna (Jennifer Garner), on whom he has an enormous crush, can say, not unkindly but truthfully, that he is not her type, she is not attracted to him and would never sleep with him before the date even starts. His secretary (Tina Fey) can say with impunity, "I know you are being fired today and I never liked you." His work nemesis Brad (an oddly worn looking Rob Lowe) displays equal antipathy (and an eye for Mark's potential girlfriend Anna whom he tries to lure away).

All goes miserably until Mark does a remarkable thing ... he lies, as in, speaks a falsehood, at the deathbed of his mother to console her that there is an afterlife. Word quickly spreads as if it is the "gospel" and Mark quickly gains zealous followers eager for a leader, a belief in God and the afterlife. He transcribes his beliefs on two pizza boxes, tablet like, for the masses and hence, the "beginning" of religion. It is a joke that goes on too long.

Using his skill to lie, he can now withdraw funds from an overdrawn account and, more importantly, invent an entirely fictitious history in a screenplay that would rival any world created by George Lucas. The film becomes a hit, he becomes famous, respected and wealthy.

But he doesn't get the girl ... and then this film goes into an entirely different direction about why shouldn't a schlub like Mark get a girl like Anna and how superficial people are. Why should Anna prefer a horrible guy like Brad (as good looking as he is) instead of a good guy like Mark?

And it is all so ... unfunny. With cheap production values, over lit sets and jokes that wear thin twenty minutes into the film I felt like shouting "I get it, I get it! No one can lie in this world and it's funny!" If we spoke our minds wouldn't it be awful? Yeah, Ricky. It would be, so perhaps I should just button up because I think you are an immensely talented guy in a misguided comedic vehicle. And that's the truth.

TIFF of the Day: Oh no, I saw Angry Asian Man in the line-up for this film. He was directly behind me for the Chris Rock event bragging about how he had left two or three films because he disliked them and almost left a fourth but luckily someone committed suicide in the film (just in time) and he didn't have to leave. Sure enough, he walked out on Rock twenty minutes into the talk. I'm not sure Angry Asian Man is enjoying the festival ... he seems to have very high standards.

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