Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"The Invention of Lying"... Starring My Friend

Months ago, my friend, Brom, got bit by the acting bug.

The romantic comedy "This Side of the Truth" starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner was filming in his town of Lowell, MA (although he keeps reminding me it's a city. Maybe Hamlet will satisfy everyone.) Extras were needed for a crowd scene, and my friend decided to sign up, despite the fact that I warned him it was really, really boring, having spent what seemed like hundreds of hours on the sweltering set of "The Great Debators" a few months before. He insisted it might be fun, so I told him to go with my blessing, but bring a book.

Brom came away from his days on the set with a drive to try his hand at acting. He regaled me with stories of meeting fabulous people and standing close to Ricky Gervais and making friends with his fellow extras and wanting to get a head-shot and asked what websites one goes to to find acting gigs. I was all-at-once excited for him and slightly amazed. Brom has a tendency to embrace things for a little while and then drop them. His history, coupled with what I knew about extra-work, made me absolutely sure that he was sugar-coating this whole experience.

Nevertheless, buoyed by his enthusiasm and feeling slightly poor, I went with Brom to a cattle call for the next Bruce Willis vehicle shooting in the area, "The Surrogates," where we met several people that he had worked with on "Truth." We all stood around for awhile and then pretended to fall down, and I was able to strike up a nice conversation with a couple lovely ladies that he had worked with (It's all about the networking!).

When the time came to shoot "Surrogates," I found the experience to be similar to "Debators," only with better lunch and at least one friend there to talk to. Despite the fact that Brom and I were given A's on our falling technique, we were sentenced to the very back of the shot, so there was no way that we would be in our scene. When the sky opened, Brom volunteered to stay outside and shoot some more, while I retreated to the nearest tavern. I should point out (although I do feel some guilt about it), that Brom and I got paid the same rate for the day. However, he still really enjoyed himself, and even parlayed it into a commercial where he was blotted out and an indy horror flick that may never see the light of day. But hey, the guy was loving life.

When "The Surrogates" was released, Brom saw it opening weekend. His review was somewhat tepid, and Brom has a very positive attitude. I would probably hate it, in fact. Since he told me that he saw nobody he knew, and certainly not either of us, I didn't bother seeing it at all, and almost wanted to shove a big, fat, "I-Told-You-So" in his face, because I'm just that much of a jerk.

But here's the clincher; "The Invention of Lying," the artist formerly known as "This Side of the Truth" was released the next week, and Brom again went opening night. The next day he told me that not only was it a funny movie, but that he saw himself in several shots. Now, I've known enough extras to know what that really means: you may have seen his arm for a tenth of a second wwwaaaayyyy in the background. Hey, I told everyone I was in "Great Debators," but I only knew I was in it because, through the miracle of technology, I can pause the DVD to the exact tenth of a second that I am actually onscreen. So, it was with skepticism that I saw the movie with Brom, asking him to point out the shots that he was in.

Here's where I eat a big fat helping of crow. Brom was clearly visible in several shots, and actually close to the action, ad even if he was not there pointing himself out, I probably would have seen him, and it was a funny, original, good movie. And I almost hate to admit it, but I think if I had been an extra on this one, I might have enjoyed it as much as he did, and thought, "Maybe I can do this more often, and not just for the money or to meet chicks." I can see why he got the bug from this one, as opposed to all the times I sat around a movie set, sweating my balls off, asking myself why the fuck I was there. His experience was probably the polar opposite of mine, and not just because he's a more positive person, but because the movie was better, the crew was probably better, he was probably treated better... Hell, the lunch was probably better.

The movie itself is interesting on several levels. At the core, it is a guy-meets-girl story, but there are layers under that premise., since the guy is the only person in the world who can tell a lie. At first, he uses it for financial gain, for himself and for the homeless man he passes on the street every day. Things take a turn after he tells his dying mother that the afterlife is filled with love and joy and mansions. Word of his gets out, and suddenly Ricky Gervais has spilled the beans on God, turning him into a sort of Christ-figure to the rubes of this world, who have never heard of such a crazy thing (pretty much coming out and saying that religion is a big lie, which I've thought for awhile, anyway.)

Even beyond the religious undercutting, there's the girl, the beautiful Jennifer Garner, who from the opening scene has told poor, chubby Gervais that she is out of his league and that, genetically, they are a poor match and so shouldn't bother dating at all (Remember, nobody lies in this world.) This, to me, is why this movie is almost the anti-romcom. This is where it skewers modern love as a whole, yet somehow embraces it because, in the end, (SPOILER ALERT, in case you have never seen a film), the guy gets the girl. In the real world, all animals seek out their ideal genetic partner, the one that will help them make the best babies. Humans do this, too, either consciously or sub-consciously, but it goes on, and it's probably why I have never met the "right girl," since I don't really want to make any babies, good or bad. This movie, however, is the only one that I've seen that comes out and says it, and it does it in such a clever way that it still has a happy ending, despite the fact that it pokes holes in the very genre that it's in and should, in fact, be kind of an indictment of the happy ending. the message in the end; You can be with someone who is not necessarily your ideal genetic mate, as long as that person makes you happy.

To me, there was another message to this one, because I find it ironic that a movie about lying can expose me to the truth: things are not always what they seem. Ricky Gervais may not seem like the ideal mate for someone as hot as Jennifer Garner, but he was in that case, and he made her happy. And extra work may not always be the most horrible experience of your life. It wasn't in that case, and it seems to have made Brom happy.

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