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The Invention of Lying

I Cannot Tell a Lie...

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Ricky Gervais rose to fame first playing the awkwardly hilarious David Brent in "The Office" and then the pathetically brilliant Andy Millman in "Extras". His brand of embarrassing, self-deprecating humor immediately won audiences in the UK and created him as a cult figure in America. With The Invention of Lying Gervais intends to finally take the States by storm and establish himself as a true artist in the process.

Along with newcomer Matthew Robinson, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, Gervais goes a bit broader for American audiences but he doesn’t lose the wit or charm that’s gained him so many fans. The Invention of Lying takes place in a world where, well, lying doesn’t exist. It’s a world that serves humans’ most primal needs and where they ignore their inner most conscience. People only look skin deep and “love” is based on finding a genetic equal to procreate the best offspring. So it’s the short, pudgy Mark Bellison (Gervais) who’s constantly getting the short end of the stick.

Bellison is in his 40s, lives alone and is waiting for his boss to muster up the energy to finally fire him. He works as a screenwriter, where historical facts are merely written into a story and read aloud onscreen. When he is finally fired he finds himself at the bottom with no hopes, no money and, quickly, no home. However, when he goes to the bank to withdraw his last few dollars for a moving truck, he is given a rare opportunity that suddenly sets his wheels in motion. With the computer system down, the teller asks how much he has in his account. This being a world where lies don’t exist, there is an inherent “honor” system. Bellison suddenly realizes this constraint and sets out to exploit it.

For quite a “broad comedy” Gervais and Robinson tackle weighty philosophical issues that even Fellini or Bergman would be proud of. And while it’s amusing to watch Gervais offhandedly create a religion to calm his dying mother’s fears and then explain it to the whole world as a faux Moses with pizza box tablets, it’s more endearing to watch him attack his own personal demons.

Sure, it’s an amusing premise for a film, but at its heart it’s about a man set apart from the rest of mankind and that’s something we can all connect with. With skilled humor, Gervais unfolds a tale of one man’s journey to find meaning and love during his finite existence. Of course, this is a theme that great cinema is built on but it takes a great mind like Gervais to reinvent it into something that feels fresh. Sure his direction and photography could be a bit sharper, but Gervais is, at heart, a writer and as his first foray into feature film (and in comedy) that’s a minor quibble, at the moment.

Many may wonder where much of Gervais’ brand of humor, which usually has you covering your eyes, has gone but for those who have been paying close attention to his career won’t be surprised that he’s exposing his heart more than his laugh. Sure David Brent was the treat of "The Office" but it was the tension between Dawn and Tim that kept it going (just look at the US version where Jim and Pam rule the speculation and spoiler discussions, not Steve Carell’s Michael Scott). "Extras" was also, ultimately, about the relationships Andy Millman had and not his desires to become a big star.

With The Invention of Lying Gervais establishes that he can do more than just make us laugh -- he can make us feel and he can make us think. Without sacrificing humor, Gervais is growing as a storyteller and, surprisingly, as a philosopher and The Invention of Lying is the proof.