I was talking to my brother-in-law about the trainwreck that was the 2011 Arthur remake. For those of you who have not seen Arthur (the original) it is a true classic. The remake, not so much.
Our mutual beef was the casting. Russell Brand is great in some movies. Get Him to the Greek, classic. Forgetting Sarah Marshal, another classic. But he failed as Arthur almost as spectacularly as Greta Gerwig shone as Naomi. (in a weird bizarro twist, it was Liza Minnelli as Arthur's love interest Linda in the original that left one wondering what the casting director was high on.)
My bro in law disagreed. "No, not Ricky Gervais, that other guy, who is he. I can't remember the name."
"What was he in?"
"The manager in Night at the Museum."
"Right. That's Ricky Gervais."
Ricky Gervais, one must admit, is pretty fucking awesome and would have made an amazing Arthur. But he didn't. So we're left with all the other brilliance he's given us: The Office, which is one of the best things ever put on television, Extras, An Idiot Abroad, and then a movie most probably haven't seen, The Invention of Lying. This picture not only stars Gervais, it was co-written by him.
The premise of Invention is a doozy. It takes place in an alternate world where everyone tells the truth. Not only that, they compulsively tell the truth. When a waiter brings Gervais and Jennifer Garner, his date, a drink he's forced to tell them "I took a sip of that."
No one can lie, exaggerate, distort, or speak anything but the unvarnished truth.
Gervais plays Mark Bellison, who works for Lecture Films as a downtrodden writer of movies. In this world, movies are non-fiction monologues read on screen by lecturers who are this universe's version of movie stars.
Until he realizes he can lie. Not only that, he is the one person in his world who can lie. Not only that, but since no one even knows what a lie is, every lie he tells is believed without question. Lying opens up a whole new world for him. Going gambling, he tells the croupier his chip was on red, not black and the croupier pays off.
A good enough premise, but the place Gervais and co-writer Matthew Robinson take it is what makes this film truly great. Remember Groundhog Day? Remember how the creators took a simple premise and kept spinning it, spinning it, spinning it in unexpected and delightful ways to its incredible and satisfying conclusion?
Lying does the same thing. Only it pushes harder as Mark Bellison, in a moment of heartbreak, takes the notion of a lie one insane step further.
And that is where the film really takes off. What is fascinating about this plot development, which I will not spoil, is how close it comes to utterly shitcanning the movie. The film walks along the razor's edge between stupid and clever like none other I've ever seen. It's like a train going around a sharp corner too fast, up on two wheels, steel screaming, whistle blowing, a heartbeat away from either crashing or slamming back down on the tracks to complete it's fabulous journey.
I'm happy to say this train makes it to the station.
In short, the movie has balls. And even though it's a medium-budget romantic comedy, it's not afraid to take on the biggest issues in the universe and win.
And how often do you see that?