“The Invention of Lying”
Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
2009. 100 min., PG-13
“A Serious Man”
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
2009, 105 min., R
Is 2009 the year for questioning religion? My movie buddy and I, still full of questions from having seen "Religulous" earlier this year, saw "The Invention of Lying" and "A Serious Man" in early October. All of these satires were pretty funny, but the fun was clearly at the expense of common religious views.
"The Invention of Lying" is exactly what it's titled. The British "Office" star Ricky Gervais carries this movie almost totally alone as the first person in his universe to say something that he knew to be not entirely true. Before that, in his world, they not only didn't lie, but they also didn't withhold anything. "I am attracted to you. May we have sex?" strangers ask one another.
It doesn't take Ricky long to inadvertently invent religion, which had previously never occurred to anyone. People's initial responses provide the point and funniest scenes in the movie. The main story, in which boy meets girl, loses her, and tries to regain her, is pleasant but not wicked enough to be great comedy.
For star-spotters, there are some fabulous cameos.
"A Serious Man," seems to be an autobiography of filmdom's genius Coen brothers. It very carefully creates a 1960s atmosphere, even though it could have occurred in any time frame. The plot has a painfully ordinary middle-class man trying to come to grips with a succession of inexplicable, but ridiculously ordinary, new problems.
Film critics are raving that it's the Coens' best ever film, and that it retells the biblical story of Job. Job, you recall, suffered greatly. Critics also said that the Coens' "Oh Brother, Wherefore Art Thou" retold The Odyssey, but it only intersected that story here and there. Their new movie isn't as much like Job as it is "The Trial" by Franz Kafka. If you didn't like Kafka, you probably won't see much point to "A Serious Man," either.
For most broadminded moviegoers, satires about religion are more fun than offending. We liked them. All three of these movies are relatively mild, well put together, slow-paced, and good-natured. None of them is going to shake up the movie world.
Taken together, though, they may be saying something very significant about a swing in our culture. See what you think!