Directed by Joshua Leonard
The Lie is so awful, it could only have been a passion project. Directed by Joshua Leonard, star of Humpday and The Blair Witch Project, it's an urgent reflection on the crisis faced by all thirtysomethings whose musical careers have sputtered out, whose personal lives have yielded actual responsibilities, and who haven't figured out how to enjoy their jobs yet. The falsehood at the movie's center comes when protagonist Lonnie (Leonard), one of the aforementioned thirtysomethings, decides that his video editing job just sucks too much. So, to avoid coming into the office, he claims that his 6-month-old daughter has died. It opens up two days off from work, and thus two days' worth of reflection—he'll later comment that he felt "kind of like myself again"—and soon elicits profound sympathy, homemade pastries, and a considerable cash donation (before it all goes down).
This hoary atmosphere is poisonous even for decent performances; as Clover, the mother of Lonnie's child, Jess Weixler brings a little much-needed subtlety into the recipe. Her character is a grad student contemplating a job with Big Pharma—which is apparently one of the reasons Lonnie is so disenchanted. His exact gripe isn't ever explained: to Leonard's credit, there's no single-cause childhood flashback or 11th hour plot twist—but to his discredit, there's also nothing else. Leonard infuses Lonnie with a rugged masculinity that makes Mark Ruffalo look like James Dean. His little-boy-lost schtick is clearly supposed to be a source, alternately, of comedy and pathos, but you can only hear someone croak lines like "I reached my maximum capacity for pretending like I care" so many times before your eyeballs start trying to escape your face. The Lie's most cathartic piece of dialogue is "my music sucks."
Indiewood's favorite brand of comedy writing over the last decade is a strain of everyone-is-a-jerk-except-me deadpan that turns toxically misanthropic when it touches coworkers, relatives or friends of friends. Here, practically everyone else is too self-absorbed to give a shit about Lonnie until his lie comes out, with Leonard frequently isolating himself in the frame, trying to figure a response to yet another supporting character's insensitivity. And if you thought Gerry Bednob's fuming, salty-mouthed performance as "Mooj" in The 40-Year Old Virgin was massacred in Apatow's edit suite, you'll be happy to see Bednob doing the exact same schtick here as Lonnie's boss.... because even in 2011, nothing could possibly be funnier than hearing thickly-accented American profanity.
Finally, in terms of style, Leonard the director serves up nothing special. The Lie is too ornate to be mumblecore —there's a twee, soaring banjo/guitar combo roughly every 10 minutes —but too mumbly to be an 80-minute sitcom episode, which is the standard embraced by most festivals spotlighting big-money independent film today. Shots are uniformly deep-focus medium close-ups, with the kind of sepia-tone filters usually reserved for the History Channel. Although based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, this is the variety of hipster weepie they'll be selling at the Millennium Mart checkout within a couple of years.
Opens November 18