A Tale of Two Films

20 02 2010

This week my wife and I watched two movies. One was advertised as a light romantic comedy (The Invention of Lying), the other was advertised as a zombie romp (Zombieland). Oddly enough, the zombie movie was fun and uplifting in its own wacky zombie way (much like Shaun of the Dead) while the romantic comedy was somewhat depressing and, worst of all, it was neither all that funny or romantic.

*Friendly Warning: SPOILERS below*

First, let me review The Invention of Lying. Overall, despite some fun parts, I really disliked this movie. There were some fun cameos and a few chuckles (but no real laughs), but in the end it was not all that entertaining. The film and its philosophy were not too well thought out. It brings out a higher level of critical thinking which kills what could have possibly been a fun light fantasy.

In The Invention of Lying, British comedian Ricky Gervais (best known from the British version of The Office and Ghost Town – both of which we enjoyed) plays a chubby man with a stubby nose (no, I’m not being mean, this is simply how he is described again and again and again and again, over and over and over in the movie) who lives in a weird alternative world where there is no such thing as lying. The first thirty minutes or so are actually decent and provide a few mild chuckles. The premise is somewhat interesting, yet, even before it dived into philosophy, I could not help but wonder why everyone had diarrhea of the mouth? I understand that people can’t lie in this alternative world, but do they really have to just automatically blurt out everything that comes into their heads? If they can’t control their speech, how do they control their actions? One would think this lack of self-control would lead to a world full of violent crime.

The film goes on to try and deliver a serious message about religion and death. Maybe my wife and I are a little sensitive on these subjects (Disclosure: we are both Christians and my wife recently lost her father and does not really enjoy seeing the death of parents portrayed in film at the moment), but I don’t think that was it. I really don’t. I’m pretty open-minded. All the same, the movie never really recovered after a particularly depressing death scene. Once it delved into philosophy, it did lead us to start thinking critically, but the more we thought about things, the more ridiculous and shallow the film appeared, completely killing the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy such a fluffy comedic fantasy.

If there was no God and no religion from the beginning of time to the present would people still hunger for religion the same way as portrayed in the movie? What kind of moral code would we live by today without the influence of religions on various cultures over the centuries? Is that very human instinctual hunger for religion portrayed in the movie an abstract yet rational proof of the necessity of some kind of religious influence for a society to be peaceful and successful and happy? As I’ve asked myself before, if we’re hardwired to believe isn’t it possible there’s something doing that hard-wiring? If only stupid people believe in religions — as the movie indicates — does that mean that over 90% of the world’s population is stupid? (An arrogant and close-minded view, in my opinion.) If there was no God because God was all a lie, why were there churches all over the town? Why was there a priest wearing a cross performing the marriage at the end? I could go on…but I won’t.

Yet, the questions posed about religion and lack of consistent world-building were not even the worst part of the movie. No, worst of all, I never understood what Ricky Gervais’s character saw in Jennifer Garner’s character. She was nasty and spent much of the movie talking about how ugly he was and explaining how he was genetically inferior to her. Not my idea of a dream girl, but maybe that’s just me? I guess to the writers it did not matter how nasty she was as a person as long as the character was played by an actress who had been featured in numerous issues of Maxim. Who cares about personality, right? Talk about a shallow love story. Who wants to be romantically involved with someone who thinks you are ugly and genetically inferior and says so over and over and over and over? Not me.

And, of course, the death scene made my wife sad, and I did not like that one little bit. I found the film’s shallow view on religion to be arrogant and the love story was … uhm … lacking anything resembling real love. Ultimately, the film failed because it was not what it was advertised to be. We enjoy watching deep dramas and philosophical films at times – we’re open and honestly enjoy seeing other points of view outside our own – but we expected something light and fun and romantic when we put on this DVD. If you want to watch a comedy that deals with religion while still managing to be funny, watch Life of Brian again. I don’t recommend watching this one unless, perhaps, there’s nothing besides Olympic curling to watch on television. Personally, I’d rather watch curling.

Thankfully, we also received Zombieland in our mailbox this week. Was it a brilliant philosophic portrait of modern society? No. Was it perfect? No. There were numerous times I questioned the logistics of things. (For example, how could there be any power in the houses, stores, and amusement park? Who’s running the power plants?) Yet, the movie makes it clear from the beginning that the film is not meant to be taken seriously, and — except for a few brief scenes for character development — it never becomes serious. It is content with being silly, mindless, blood-splattering fun. Exactly what the film was billed to be.

Because it never tried to become serious, I could turn off my logic long enough to enjoy the movie, and it was funny. Very, very funny. And, somewhat surprisingly, the love story worked. It was silly and a tad unbelievable, perhaps, but it wasn’t shallow. It was honest and the female was multidimensional – in other words, she was actually nice to the guy much of the time. It also had a nice little heartfelt angle about the very nature of what makes up a family. I looked over and saw my wife (who wasn’t really interested in watching this one) smiling all the way through the film to the end (even during several particularly silly death scenes, especially one involving a certain celebrity). While I enjoyed the movie on its own terms, her smile made me very happy.

Zombieland was advertised as a funny little zombie movie, and, in my opinion, it delivered. What more can you ask for? Had this film asked me to think about it critically, ethically, or philosophically, I’m sure I could tear it apart as illogical, immoral, and ridiculous, much like I did to The Invention of Lying above. But it simply was not that kind of movie and did not pretend to be something more complex than it was. It was something to watch for fun, and I found it very, very fun. Highly recommended for adults, unless you are squeamish about gore.

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