Is there such a thing as a genial black comedy? If so, “The Invention of Lying” might be it. This marks two Toronto fests in a row when a Ricky Gervais-starrer has screened (and junketed). I’ll be talking to Gervais, his leading lady, Jennifer Garner (don’t worry Ricky mocks this unlikely genetic coupling more than you possibly fathom), and Rob Lowe (in a typically nefarious turn—see “Wayne’s World 2” for reference.).
But for now, you probably want to know how the film is? Well, it’s very funny. Of course it is. Gervais co-wrote and co-directed this (alongside Matthew Robinson) so that result was never really in doubt. But I’m not ready to say Ricky’s hit one out of the park at the multiplex just yet. “Ghost Town” was mild if pleasant all around and “The Invention of Lying” feels like a suitable companion on the double bill (it’d be great to hook Gervais up with a true filmmaker whose vision can match his wit—visually this one just feels a bit… small, even minor).
It all starts out very promisingly. Arch narration by Gervais. High concept very amusingly introduced. You see, we’re in a world exactly like our own save one key ability all humans lack: the ability to lie. And you thought your dates were awkward. Imagine one in which the woman (Jennifer Garner) tells you right off the bat she’s not interested. Garner by the way is charming in the part. In fact Gervais has surrounded himself with a helluva roster of talent. Louis C.K. underplays his best friend admirably. Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey and Jason Bateman steal some scenes as they pass through. And no less than Edward Norton (nice ‘stache, Ed) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (favorite line: “I’ve never seen a black Eskimo!”) show up to pay their respects.
But the movie of course belongs to Gervais and, once again, as with “Ghost Town,” he proves he’s a genuine leading man. I mean it. He holds the screen and draws you in. Hell, Gervais even cries in this one, and not for comedic effect.
I haven’t said much about the plot of, have I? Well you heard the logline pitch earlier. World where no one lies. What happens when one man does? Yadda yadda yadda. The yadda yadda is actually pretty fascinating. Suffice it to say, “Invention” shares some profundities with “Groundhog Day.” Sadly, in the end it doesn’t have the highs of the Ramis/Murray joint, but let Gervais take you on this dark (and sweet?!?) ride and you’ll thank him later.