Toronto Review: "The Invention of Lying"

By Melissa Algaze Monday September 14th 2009 01:54AM

Ricky Gervais makes his directorial debut with "The Invention of Lying", a comedy part of the Special Presentation program at this year's festival. Imagine living in a world where only the truth exists and no one is a skeptic. Imagine the nightmare of a first date (where a date tells you they aren't sexually attracted to you as soon as they open the door), the workplace (where your secretary tells you she's hated every moment she's worked for you), or a visit with your mother (where she agrees with your self-assessment of being a loser) – this is a world where no feelings are spared, not to be malicious, but because the truth is all one knows.

This is Mark Bellison's (Gervais) world. In this alternate reality, lies do not exist, movies aren't ever fictional, Coke promotes their product as brown sugar water that will make you fat, Bellison's boss tells him he's too nervous to fire him thus putting off for days. The concept of a lie doesn't even exist until down-on-his luck Bellison realizes the ability to simply not tell the truth and discovers that dishonesty has its rewards.

As he discovers the ease in which to fib, things all begin to fall into this place for this self-described loser; his dream girl, Jennifer (Jennifer Garner), suddenly seems within reach, his career star is back on the rise, and before too long, he's even famous for lies he tells his mother about. While this film is meant to be funny (and it is), it's more of an astute commentary on where the truth fits into our world and lives.

This black comedy works because we relate to where such honesty and dishonesty fit even though we crave honesty from the people that surround us; we often can't handle it when we are given what we've asked for. We lie sometimes to protect and fool ourselves, but mostly to guard the feelings of others. In the alternative reality of "The Invention of Lying", humans never have to deal with the messiness of untruths; people mean what they say all of the time and because they've never known any other way, they aren't really hurt by nasty remarks because they are not insults, but just statements of fact.

This entertaining and thought provoking movie ultimately urges the viewer to consider how important the truth is and where lies fit in to our lives. Gervais does a proficient job for a first time director and while there are some parts of the story (co-written by Gervais with Matthew Robinson), that cause the viewer to question the consistency of the premise; it is ultimately a funny and enjoyable film.