The Invention of Lying is the most sweetly subversive movie I've seen in a long time, a sad-sack comedy that satirizes the mindset that's required for a literal belief in a deity that presides over the world with an inflexible set of rules. As co-written and co-directed by Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervais, who also stars in the movie, this assault on simple-minded fundamentalism sneaks up on you, making itself known only after introducing its arch premise.
Gervais portrays Mark Bellison, a screenwriter who lives in a world in which no one ever lies. Far from being an idyllic paradise of shared truth, this world is marked by an endless stream of agitated or insulting exchanges.
An example: Mark arrives at the home of Anna (Jennifer Garner) for a date. She greets him in chipper fashion, informing him that she's sorry he's a few minutes early because she was upstairs masturbating and hasn't had time to finish. It doesn't take long for Anna to tell Mark he has no possible future with her. Honesty, as we soon learn, isn't always the best policy.
Not only is Mark unlucky in love; he's also failing at his job. He works for a company that produces movies in the form of lectures. Mark's specialty: the 13th century. He's about to lose his position because no one believes that his production of the Black Plague will sell.
To make matters worse, Mark's derided by his secretary (Tina Fey) and by a colleague (Rob Lowe) who regards him as a total loser.
The movie slips into its assault on mass gullibility when Mark discovers he's capable of lying, a talent that gives him an unexpected surge of power. I'll let you discover the consequences of Mark's lie in the theater, but know that it turns him into a celebrity and part-time prophet.
Although he's dealing with material that easily could have been overstated, Gervais maintains a disarmingly good-natured tone throughout. It was disrupted for me only by some obvious -- if jokey -- product placements.
The Invention of Lying is not geared to produce belly laughs, but Gervais compensates by putting some meat on its comic bones. You may leave the theater smiling before you realize exactly how far Gervais has been willing to go. How far? Let's just say that his movie will not become a Focus on the Family favorite.