Sundance 2011 Review: THE LIE

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
January 29th, 2011


Rating: 3.5/5

Writers: T. Coraghessan Boyle (short story), Jeff Feuerzeig (additional material), Joshua Leonard, Mark Webber, and Jess Weixler (screenplay)
Director: Joshua Leonard
Cast: Joshua Leonard, Mark Webber, Jess Weixler

Based on T.C. Boyle’s short story of the same name, THE LIE sees Joshua Leonard using his directorial feature film debut to craft a film that’s a funnier and richer take on some already outstanding source material. A veteran actor of the indie scene (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, HUMPDAY, and another Sundance pick from this year, HIGHER GROUND), Leonard also helped script the film (along with co-stars Jess Weixler and Mark Webber) the film in which he also stars.

In THE LIE, Leonard plays Lonnie – husband, father, and corporate grunt. Lonnie’s job is ostensibly a “Hollywood” one (editing commercials), but he’s really just a logger who spends hours watching and documenting the minutiae of stock footage. Is Lonnie having a quarterlife crisis? Well, can you blame him? Lonnie sees himself as still young and idealistic and wild, and being saddled with a crappy job that doesn’t feed his “artistic needs” is not a part of that. And, on a Wednesday too much like any other, when Lonnie can’t bring himself to open the door to the office, everything changes for him.

THE LIE is a film about the little decisions that have the biggest repercussions in our lives. On that Wednesday, Lonnie decides to not go to work. At first, Lonnie sees it as just one day off, just one day to himself, but his unhinged boss Radko won’t accept standard sick day excuses. So Lonnie lies, telling Radko that his baby daughter Xana is ill. With an excuse like that, Lonnie is golden.

There is the understandable appeal of the sick day – a day for anything, being alone and being anywhere and, more than anything, being untraceable. Lonnie spends that first day doing anything he wants, from having a late breakfast to dropping in on his best friend Tank (Mark Webber) to record some songs. It’s a good day, and it’s fine as just a day, but Lonnie’s lie begins to spread in unimaginable ways, and he becomes trapped by the selfishness of his delayed (and pathetic) adolescence.

Unlike Lonnie, the twists and turns of their adult life together has matured his wife Clover (Jess Weixler), who is just finishing up law school and looking to move into a corporate job. But Lonnie doesn’t see Clover’s maturity and dedication to providing for her family with tangible items (a big salary, health insurance) as a good thing – he just sees it as a change he’s not ready for or a part of. When Clover announces her possible intention to take a job with a big pharmaceutical company, a dumbstruck Lonnie can only say to their table of friends, “If you knew her, you would understand how strange this is.” But isn’t Lonnie the strange one?

As Clover, Jess Weixler continues to turn in nuanced and charming performances. In one of the film’s best scenes (a scene that is beautifully funny and bitingly true and gently intimate), Lonnie giddily plays the fruits of one of his day-off labors – a song recorded with Tank that is so deliriously terrible that Clover has no idea how to react. But Weixler does react – and Leonard keeps the camera trained on her face for the duration of the terrible (seriously, like, incredibly terrible) song for three or so minutes. In these minutes, Clover cycles through every emotion, hilariously and painfully, her facial expressions doing nothing less than covering the ranges and limits of love.

THE LIE effectively showcases the depth of Leonard’s talent. While Lonnie is a stunted man-child who isn’t secure enough in any part of his life to really be there for anyone he loves, Leonard infuses him with a believable and understandable sense of desperation. Though Lonnie’s insecurity and skewed sense of self are beyond the pale, there is a relatability to his struggle. It’s even more of a credit to Leonard that he also helped craft a witty script and directed the rest of his actors into flinty, winning performances.

So does Leonard pull off his feature directorial debut? With aplomb and humor - THE LIE is the real deal. And that’s the truth.

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If you're interested in reading Boyle's original short story, The Lie, check it out over at the New Yorker right HERE.

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