The Lie, Joshua Leonardâ€™s (feature narrative) directorial debut, adapted from a short story by T. Coraghessan Boyle, is a different kind of mid-life crisis film, one that could actually more accurately be described as a coming-of-age, just a little later. A 2011 version of 90’s films such as Reality Bites and Singles, the question dealt with here is how adults such as protagonist Lonny (Leonard) manage to do things that grownups do, like support kids and a home, while everything else about their existence does not fit into standard archetypes of adulthood. As are all but the high concept mumblecores (such as Humpday), for one reason or another, the film is effective, insightful, touching, even daring, and completely hits the topical target on the head, but it is likely forgettable to most audiences.
Both Leonard and his character in the film Lonny have a lot of their minds. The Lie is definitely a very cathartic experience for both of them. The plot details the point where Lonnyâ€™s frustrations with life hit critical mass and how he copes with that. In this case, he so desperately wants to get out of his job as a video editor that he makes up a lie about his newborn daughter so scandalous that if found out would force him to need to abandon his life completely.
The moment when Lonny recites the aforementioned titular lie is hilarious. We know something is coming obviously, and Leonard does nothing to hint at what said lie will be. When it hits, he does not highlight the moment at all, but itâ€™s more of a slow burnâ€”one of those wait, did that just happen? moments. What makes the lie so effective is, whether we admit it or not, weâ€™ve all thought of it before. Few of us have actually taken that step into the oblivion of actually pulling that card, but anyone who has been up late to meet a deadline, or heading to work early after a late night, has had something similar pop into his or her mind.
The strength of the film is how topical and close to home the subject matter and treatment is going to be to many late-20s and 30-somethings. The characters in this film have homes and families, but they have yet to really settle into the defining characteristics of what will be their lives. Lonnyâ€™s wife Clover (Jess Weixler) is about to forgo her activist history to take a high paying job at one of the evil empire corporations they villainize, justifying it by saying she will be able to make more of a difference from the inside.
Through the Lonny and Cloverâ€™s friends, Leonard shows us how most couples settle into their ways of life. One friend is decidedly bohemian and lives in an RV by the ocean, one couple is settled into having just what they need and no more, along with the comfort of each other, and then another contrasting couple is defined mainly by the fact that the husband made a lot of money.
The contrasts of their group of friends bring up many sociological questions that are contemporary but also timeless. Why does our income necessarily dictate the kind of people we become? We say material things are meaningless, yet so much of our lives are defined by how many and what kinds of material things we are capable of owning and which we choose. All of these couples started with the same principles, but once one of them realized they had more glamorous options, they abandoned said principles, and once another couple realized they did not really have more options, they embraced those principles religiously. Lonnyâ€™s crisis is the story of an alternative, where he decides what he wants outside of the options he is presented. Lonny has a decent job, making enough to support his family, and working as a video editor so itâ€™s not some torturous sell-your-soul job. He is not content with any of it though, and instead of settling, he chooses to find something heâ€™s truly happy with.
The denouement of the film happens when Clover finds out about Lonnyâ€™s lie. The scene is unpredictable and dynamic. Without ruining the ending, she makes a choice that one would never expect in other films. There is a way these movies unravel traditionally, and The Lie, much like its protagonist, goes completely against that grain. Unfortunately, this rarely happens, so even more credit must go to Leonard and the filmmakers for giving us an organic and true plot twist, not the one we get in stupid thrillers.
The originality and cultural relevance will draw those who get it to the film. For the majority of audiences though, The Lie is just going to be boring. The story is very subtle and pointed at a particular niche of society. Most people will find Lonnyâ€™s struggles trite and consider him lazy, spoiled or both. Thatâ€™s just the way art works in our world. Most people see movies like this and donâ€™t consider anything to be happening and that’s unfortunate indeed, because this micro-budheted film deserves a decent audience. Itâ€™s filled with insights and standout performances from leads Leonard and Weixler, along with Mark Webber. Ben Kasulke lenses it with his usual subtlety that always has the frame in the right spot, adding texture to the often improvised scenes. The nuance and detail of the cultural investigations here will make this movie relevant for years to come.
Reviewed at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. NEXT Section.
80 Mins. January, 25th, 2011