“The Lie” begins with a premise based in darkest comedy, like something “Seinfeld” would have addressed — it would have been George who told this particular lie — and then subverts our expectations by contemplating the deeper issues that led to the deception. The result isn’t as funny as an all-out black farce might have been, but it’s a richer film experience. Besides, it’s very likely that the two-dimensional approach, stretched out to feature length, would have become unbearable anyway. This mix of laughs and drama is a good one.
Our premise is this. Lonnie (Joshua Leonard) is an anxious, thirty-ish Los Angeles hipster with a well-matched wife, Clover (Jess Weixler), and a baby daughter named Xana. When people ask Lonnie what he does for a living, he says he’s in a band. In truth, he has a drudgery-filled day job at a film-editing house, and his band has been dormant for ages (and has never been profitable), but he’s loath to acknowledge that he has, by his own standards, “sold out.”
That isn’t The Lie, though. That’s just a regular ol’ lower-case lie. The Lie is what Lonnie, in a fit of frustration and depression, tells his boss to get out of work one day. It is the sort of lie from which there is no return. It is huge and terrible and will have dire consequences, far beyond this one day of freedom. I’m not going to tell you what it is.
Once the fabrication is uttered, you can instantly see the potential for squirmy comedy. Lonnie must keep up the lie for the sake of his concerned co-workers, but prevent word of it from reaching Clover, who doesn’t know what he’s done and wouldn’t approve if she did. He has more time to hang out with his bandmate, Tank (Mark Webber), a slacker who lives in a trailer on the beach, but he can’t tell Tank why he’s not at work. And so it goes.
But it wasn’t just a desire to get out of work that made Lonnie tell the lie. There are more complicated issues at play: his reluctance to face adulthood, his disappointment at not being what he thought he was going to be, his dissatisfaction with a life (family, job, house, car) that 90 percent of the world’s population would be thrilled to have. These issues are familiar in low-budget comedy-dramas — Sundance is rife with them — and Joshua Leonard, who plays Lonnie and also directed the film, was last seen in one of them, 2009’s “Humpday.” So it isn’t the material in “The Lie” that’s fresh; it’s the way this point of view has been applied to a basic comedy premise.
The script is based on a short story by T. Coraghessan Boyle, and was adapted by Leonard, co-stars Jess Weixler and Mark Webber, and Jeff Feuerzeig — a collaborative effort, it would seem. The tone is naturalistic and low-key, the characters believable. The complications that arise from Lonnie’s lie are exactly what they’d be in real life, and the resolution is plausible, if not as packed with fireworks as you might have hoped.
Leonard has a laid-back and disheveled, Owen Wilson-y vibe that works for him in the role, reassuring us that Lonnie is a good person who has simply had a momentary lapse of judgment. The real MVP, though, is Weixler (from “Teeth”), as his wife. Two stand-out scenes focus on Clover’s reaction to Lonnie, the camera lingering on Weixler’s face as she hilariously runs the gamut of emotions. We see man-child characters like Lonnie in movies all the time. Less common is the presence of someone who will respond to his nonsense the way we would if we were there. To put it another way, every George needs an Elaine.
B+ (1 hr., 20 min.; )