Ricky Gervais – the creator of the classic British TV series, The Office and Extras – aimed high with his 2009 feature directorial debut, The Invention Of Lying – a human comedy in the vein of The Apartment and Groundhog Day – and even though the film didn’t quite reach the dramatic and comedic heights of those classics, it still offered up light and enjoyable entertainment, and further showcased the often extraordinary skills of its creator.
Like Groundhog Day, the world of The Invention Of Lying is not an over-the-top, fantastical creation, but rather a clever inversion of the everyday, based on the writers’ insight into human behaviour. Gervais plays Mark Bellison, the first human to lie in a world where not only do people not lie, but they have no concept of deception. “It’s amazing,” Ricky Gervais laughed to FilmInk in 2008. “It’s a world where the human race hasn’t evolved the gene for lying. Everything is literal, and people have this Tourette’s-type honesty. It’s a harsh, cruel world based on success and power and passing on your genetic material. I come along, and I’m this sort of loser. I’m at the bottom of the pile. People are out of my league, and I discover that I’ve got this genetic mutation. I can lie in a world where no one lies or even understands the concept of lying. Everything I say is gospel. So I can get anything I want…or can I?”
It’s a simple conceit on the part of Gervais and co-writer/co-director, Matthew Robinson, but they layer the film with provocative questions about the roles of storytelling and faith. The Invention Of Lying is a wish-fulfilment comedy that touches on pretty heavy issues, but offers humour and wit, especially during the opening exchanges which set up the film’s comic premise and sense of interior logic. Gervais may be no-one’s idea of a traditional leading man, but he brings a sweetness and gentleness to the characterisation of Mark. He also parlays his success to recruit top-flight comic performers (including Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K, and Jeffrey Tambor) for funny supporting slots. Gervais and Robinson may lumber the end stretches of the film with a little too much sentiment, but they also show genuine affection for their characters. Funny, clever and even a little touching, The Invention Of Lying succeeds as a modern comic fantasy.
But despite its fantastical elements, Gervais characteristically located The Invention Of Lying’s humour within the everyday, as he did with The Office and Extras. “I assume that I get lied to every day, but I take it on good faith that other people lie in the same way that I lie,” Gervais says. “I lie every day, but they’re white lies. It’s about saving people’s feelings. In a world without lies, there’s no flattery, there are no dreams, there’s no poetry, there’s no art…a world without lies is boring. What makes us moral people is deciding when it’s right and wrong to lie. You can’t lie to yourself though. It’s impossible. You know deep down. So I’m very, very honest with myself.”
David Brent: Life On The Road is in cinemas now.