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SUNDANCE REVIEW: The Lie

The Bottom Line

Adaptation of an esteemed New Yorker story lightens the tone successfully while capturing the ugliness of a panic-inspired misstep.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival, NEXT

Cast

Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Violet Long, Jane Adams, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, Gerry Bednob

Director-screenwriter

Joshua Leonard

Screenwriters

Jeff Feuerzeig, Mark Webber, Jess Weixler

The tale of father who lies about his baby dying to get out of work combines subdued black comedy with a fresh take on familiar compromise-vs.-idealism angst.

PARK CITY -- Combining subdued black comedy with a fresh take on familiar compromise-vs.-idealism angst, The Lie gets laughs without sacrificing its fairly serious look at a marriage that could go either way. Likeably shaggy, it has arthouse appeal and a winning cast.

Deeply rooted in organic-grown slackerdom, the movie quickly communicates its husband-and-wife protagonists' discomfort with the expectations others have of them as new parents -- and with the tradeoffs they see themselves making to keep their family secure.

As husband Lonnie, director Joshua Leonard is closer to the edge, finally ditching work one day by claiming his baby is sick. Put on the spot when he tries to take another day off, he blurts out that the child has died -- starting an inevitable chain of events that will leave him looking inhuman, even to himself.

Seeing the panic on Leonard's face as he tells that lie is like looking through a crack in the delusions Lonnie clings to through much of the film. The actor plays things lightly, stumbling through interactions near-comically for a while before the charade catches up to him; supporting cast Jess Weixler (as his wife, Clover) and Mark Webber (as his responsibility-free buddy) project more solid senses of themselves, heightening the sense that Lonnie may well careen out of his life's orbit if something doesn't change.

The filmmakers take an episodic approach to Lonnie's turmoil instead of ratcheting tension up from one scene to the next, which suits the characters but makes for an abrupt mood change when Clover finally learns what's going on. The movie seems to hold its breath throughout their suddenly dead-serious confrontation.

In expanding T. Coraghessan Boyle's short story for the screen, Leonard and his co-writers offer a fresh-start finish that walks back from the bleak moment that Boyle may or may not have envisioned as the end of this marriage. In Leonard's version, it's the granite-eyed confrontation, not the drive off into the sunset, that feels like an aberration -- a surmountable hurdle for characters whose basic decency, however crusted over, will eventually keep them together.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, NEXT
Production Companies: Perception Media, Das Film
Cast: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Violet Long, Jane Adams, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, Gerry Bednob
Director-screenwriter: Joshua Leonard
Screenwriters: Jeff Feuerzeig, Mark Webber, Jess Weixler
Producer: Mary Pat Bentel
Executive producers: Sriram Das, Mitchel Goldman
Director of photography: Benjamin Kasulke
Production designer: Thomas S. Hammock
Music: Peter Raeburn
Costume designer: Emily Batson
Editor: Greg O'Bryant
Sales: United Talent Agency
No rating, 82 minutes