The Lie - SideReel Review
There probably isn’t an adult alive who hasn’t told a lie to get out of work at least once, even if said lie only amounted to claiming to have a really bad cold and needing to stay home when it was actually just a mild case of the sniffles that could have been cleared up with some DayQuil. One of the best things about Joshua Leonard’s film The Lie is that it’s based on a scenario that nearly everyone can relate to, only with a very serious left turn thrown in; it’s the tale of a man whose little white lie turns horribly dark in the blink of an eye, and while it has more than a few flaws, it’s well-acted and has a natural, realistic feel that suggests this actor-turned-director has a future behind the camera.
In The Lie, Leonard plays Lonnie, a guy in his early thirties who lives in Southern California with his wife Clover (Jess Weixler) and their six-month-old daughter. When they first met, Lonnie and Clover were semi-hippie idealists with grand plans for their lives: She was going to be an environmental activist and he was going to front a rock band with his best friend Tank (Mark Webber). Once Clover discovered she was pregnant, all that changed -- Lonnie got a job as an assistant editor at a production company that makes awful television commercials, and Clover was headhunted by a notoriously unscrupulous pharmaceutical firm. One morning, after an evening arguing with Clover about where their lives are going, Lonnie decides he just can’t handle going to work and calls his boss Radko (Gerry Bednob) to tell him the baby is sick and he needs to look after her. Lonnie has a great day: He orders a big breakfast, goes to the beach, spends the afternoon smoking weed and writing new songs with Tank, and gets home in time to put together a nice dinner for Clover that leads to some fine makeup sex. In fact, Lonnie’s day is so good that the next morning he wants a repeat performance, but his boss isn’t about to allow him to stay home another day. As Radko screams his head off over the phone, Lonnie blurts out the best excuse he can think of: His daughter has just died. Radko immediately changes his tune, but Lonnie realizes he’s painted himself into a corner; this lie won’t hold water with his co-workers forever, and it could have a horrible impact on his relationship with Clover.
Joshua Leonard has proved himself to be the surprise success story from the indie-horror blockbuster The Blair Witch Project -- he played one of the luckless student filmmakers lost in the woods, and unlike his fellow cast members, he’s gone on to a busy career as a character actor. With The Lie, Leonard has directed his first feature film, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Feuerzeig and co-stars Jess Weixler and Mark Webber. He seems to be a good collaborator, and what’s most winning about The Lie is the way he interacts with the other actors -- he generates an easy laughter as he bounces off Webber (playing a hippie who lives in a trailer and is formulating a line of edible makeup), and his scenes with Weixler recall the give and take of a real relationship. (The brief bit where Weixler pumps her breast milk while wearing a Crass t-shirt is a nice play on the war between youthful ambitions and the realities of adult life.) Leonard drops some bigger names into the cast in cameos, and Jane Adams, Kelli Garner, Kirk Baltz, and former Andy Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn all add to the film’s comfortable but slightly off-kilter texture. He also fares well as a leading man, letting his likeable qualities play off his character’s immaturity and irresponsibility, and as both a performer and a director he honors the wit and the dark side of this story with skill. However, Leonard has a lot to learn about pacing -- The Lie feels like a short film that’s been padded to feature length, and at just 80 minutes, it’s longer than it needs to be and wanders off the track often enough that one occasionally wonders what happened to the main narrative. The Lie suggests Leonard has a way to go before he hits his stride as a filmmaker, but he gets a lot right, and his gift for handling actors and his ability to balance comedy and tragedy is impressive.
Hopefully Leonard will learn to focus better with his next project; as it is, The Lie is uneven but well worth a look, and its high points are well-crafted and rewarding.