In the alternative world presented in THE INVENTION OF LYING everyone tells the truth to a fault. While honesty all the time might sound ideal, it can produce brutal results. For screenwriter Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), it means being subjected to insults and uncomfortable interactions.
After losing his job and facing eviction, Mark asks a bank teller for more money than is in his account and receives it. Like the rest of society, the banker has no mechanism for recognizing dishonesty. Mark uses his newly discovered power to lie and improve his life, but the consequences of his lying eventually catch up with him in ways he couldn't have anticipated.
Gervais is not one to let pride get in the way of a good joke at his expense, and as star, co-writer, and co-director of THE INVENTION OF LYING, he gleefully sends the cruelest barbs his way. The film gets off to a rollicking start with everyone spouting their uncensored opinions.
Clearly all truth all the time has its down sides despite what our parents taught us about lying. Similarly, the film amuses in how unquestioning people are in accepting Gervais' untruths and the problems this creates. Falsehoods can be damaging, but telling lies can be the right or civil thing to do and can spur creativity. After all, what is fiction, which is something that doesn't exist in the film's art-less universe?
Gervais is an avowed atheist, so he uses THE INVENTION OF LYING'S concept to explore what he views as the deleterious effects of religion. The satire is nowhere near as biting and isn't as dismissive as would be expected from a comedian who specializes in humor of discomfort. Gervais and co-writer/director Matthew Robinson also struggle to balance the headier notions floating about in THE INVENTION OF LYING. The philosophical musings can drag down the lighter elements and lend an uneven tone to the film.
Gervias is funny throughout and well-matched with Jennifer Garner, who delivers a guileless performance marked by chipper, unyielding logic as Mark's love interest Anna. Gervais may put no stock in religious belief, but via Garner's character he presents an implicit riposte to leaving everything merely to reason.
Gervais has helped craft a funny but inconsistent film, yet I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I appreciate the ambition and humor put into what could have been a one-note premise.