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Hey Ricky Gervais, your pants are on fire!

A few thoughts on The Invention of Lying.

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One of the most anticipated comedies of the year comes from Ricky Gervais, whose impact on the entire culture of western comedic entertainment can be favourably compared to Woody Allen, Carl Reiner or Jerry Seinfeld. Gervais has done movies before, such as last fall's Ghost Town (which critics seem to be falling over themselves to proclaim as an unjustly ignored gem, while I maintain the public's disinterest was well earned), but The Invention of Lying is one Gervais wrote, produced, co-directed (with Matthew Robinson) and stars in, which makes it much more worthy of consideration. Is Gervais still a comedic genius on the big screen?

Now, I would love to go to some length discussing this film, but the review embargo is still in effect. I can tell you it's a romantic comedy with Gervais as the lead, opposite Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe and Louis CK (who performs stand-up at the Rebecca Cohn on Friday night). Gervais is a self-confessed “loser" named Mark who discovers how to lie in a world where a falsehood has never been told. The cast is crammed with recognizable Hollywood and comedy stars, all craving a chance to work with Gervais on his most recent project, if just for a moment. Part of the fun is spotting them, even when they don't have much to do, so I won't give away any names.

I can also say that maybe the best thing about the movie is the potential existential and philosophical discussions it will engender after the lights come back on. In a world where no one can lie, where the very concept of truth, fiction or even faith has never been conceived, does it make sense that the only man who can lie would become a prophet? Is he a one-eyed man who becomes king in the Land of the Blind? Another question: In a world where everyone must speak the truth, is it also a requirement that they announce it? Does the ability to simply not speak when it isn't appropriate play no part? And if you can't help but be declarative, what role does free will play, if any?

Maybe I'm over-thinking it. After all, it is a romantic comedy, and they all tend to conclude in the same way, with the exception of Annie Hall.

I think the Woody Allen comparison is valid, and not just because Gervais uses Allen-esque white-on-black-background, serif-heavy font in the titles of his movie, but because Gervais, like Allen, came from other media to the cinema, with a previously established persona. I think what Allan was able to do was transcend his own particular obsessions to grasp at something universal, and Gervais, with all his success, has yet to do that. Or perhaps he has, but he has yet to grasp me. I don't think simply being clever and self-loathing is the same as being funny. It can be, but isn't always.

So, I can't fully review The Invention of Lying, but there are some more detailed critical assessments on the movie already existing online. David Edelstein at New York Magazine liked the film much more than I did, as did many of the other critics I've read. It opens October 2, and you'll be hearing much more about it in the coming week.

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