Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, October 12 2009
The new Ricky Gervais film, THE INVENTION OF LYING, postulates a world in which no one has ever told a lie. We know this because the hero tells us all about it in an opening voice-over. It is the first, small warning sign that the movie may not be firing right. . . One delight of THE TRUMAN SHOW was the onus it placed on viewers from the start, both daring us and trusting us to work out, at our own speed, just what the hell was going on in that spotless seaside town. No such joy from Gervaise. . . who seems to have mislaid the T-shirt that is handed to every first-time movie director - the one that reads "Show, Don't Tell." That is a shame, because the conceit itself is ripe with possibility. . . .
We have heard something similar before, in LIAR LIAR (1997), which presented Jim Carrey as a lonely blurter in a mendacious world. Here the situation is reversed. Everyone dwells in veracity except for Mark, who, one day, at a bank, suddenly tells a lie; we watch it happening, inside his brain, a rare synaptic spark, and it nets him five hundred dollars. . . . He comforts his aged mother as she fades away in a nursing home. . . with an off-the-cuff account of a radiant afterlife, complete with mansions, where she will continue to exist. "Go on," one of the nurses urges him.
So he does, and THE INVENTION OF LYING promptly lurches into another gear, with Mark finding fame as a Moses figure, with a hint of John the Baptist. The difference is that those men believed what they foretold, whereas Mark makes it up as he goes along, scribbling nostrums on whatever comes to hand. "Everything you need to know is written on these pizza boxes," he declares to a crowd of people gathered outside his apartment, telling them of a mysterious "man in the sky" who controls their destinies, and promising them eternal ice cream if they behave well on earth. Audiences here should be reminded, at this point, that Gervais found his fame on the BBC, with "The Office" and "Extras," and that the execration of religious faith, specifically Christianity - plus a reflex sneer at the fools who fall for it - has, in the past decade, become the default mode of British cultural life. It makes sense, I suppose, for Gervais to use his film to air such mockery, if spiritual belief genuinely strikes him as a lie like any other; the plan would carry more weight, however, if he didn't use the rest of the film to air his transcendent belief in Ricky Gervais. . . .
Toward the end, THE INVENTION OF LYING becomes almost a one-man show; we find ourselves in a traditional church (who built that?), with the Cross digitally removed from its steeple and an icon of Mark, with outstretched arms, above the altar. So, the sweet best friend with the snub nose not only gets the girl; he gets to play the man in the sky. Talk about invention.