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by Eric Kohn
January 28, 2011 10:49 AM
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Sundance Review | Joshua Leonard's "The Lie" Suffers From Uneven Tone

Joshua Leonard's "The Lie" Screen Media

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. "The Lie" opens Friday.

The problem with "The Lie," actor Joshua Leonard's first solo directing credit, is that it plays like two movies at odds with each other. A basic domestic drama with flashes of light comedy, the movie feels both cautionary and sincere about the prospects of running away from debilitating mistakes. While intermittently engaging and well-acted, Leonard's direction fails to inject much life into this watered-down scenario.

Based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, the plot features Leonard as wannabe musician Lonnie and his law school wife Clover (Jess Weixler), whose dreams of living a wild life together have been interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a baby girl. Having settled into a regular 9-to-5 routine, Lonnie constantly evades responsibilities, coming up with excuses not to attend work while jamming with his less troubled pal (Mark Webber). The titular development takes place when Lonnie abruptly tells his boss that his daughter has died, resulting in an outpour of support from oblivious co-workers and friends. Attempting to hide his abrupt verbal snafu from his wife, Lonnie looks like a scared animal in search of shelter, but the plot barely progresses from that point.

Leonard, whose last great performance was the similarly bumbling man-child in Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," creates a contemplative mood that allows the two main characters to babble on about the changes in their home life and whether they need to shake things up. There's just not enough wit or insight here to justify the constant soul searching. Programmed in Sundance's NEXT section, which is often seen as heralding emerging new talents, "The Lie" mainly provides a reminder that Leonard knows how to act around fairly average material, including his own. Weixler also delivers, although the movie positions her in a secondary role that only requires her presence at certain key moments.

To be fair, Leonard and Weixler are entirely convincing as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. When Clover uncovers Lonnie's made-up excuse, the two get a chance to show the extent of their skills in close-up. However, the movie regularly suffers from pacing problems that hamper its prospects for a lasting emotional impact. Is Lonnie's plight a drama, a dark comedy, or both? Leonard can't seem to nail that one down. "The Lie" is divided against itself, just like the irredeemable character at its center.

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Screen Media Films will open "The Lie" on Friday at select theaters. Fans of T.C. Boyle may want to check it out, but the lack of star power and mixed critical reactions may keep it from gaining much of a following.

criticWIRE grade: B-

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6 Comments

  • Michael Furmann | February 3, 2011 4:31 AMReply

    I finally got to read the reviews of this film. No think to add to Eric's review. My note here is to point out that Leonard is not ready for a director's job. He should stick to explore his enormous talent as an actor.

  • David Goreen | February 2, 2011 1:36 AMReply

    Eric I think, that as you noted that Lenard performance in the film was a redeeming element. I believe that Weixler showed some talent. Their performance partially redeem the weaknesses of the story and its presentation.

  • geo | February 1, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    This film was amazing. I usually think indiewire is on the money but Eric my friend, I don't know what movie you saw, but The Lie that I saw was an nuanced, artistically crafted story that really left me connecting with Lonnie and realizing that there is hope no matter how badly I think I messed something up. Leonard and Weixler both totally nailed their characters. Go see it again and this time, watch it.

  • walt | January 31, 2011 8:57 AMReply

    I on the other hand agree with Eric. The movie seems to lack direction. It is no clear what the message is. I think Leonard and Weixler acting partially redeem the film

  • Jed | January 31, 2011 1:20 AMReply

    Completely agree with dsizzle. This was in my top 3 of the dozen films I saw. To me, Like Crazy, while also excellent, was more uneven than The Lie.

  • dsizzle | January 30, 2011 9:58 AMReply

    Wow. I think you saw a different movie than I did. This was easily the most satisfying and moving film I saw at Sundance, and I saw many of the critical "favorites." The tone is not uneven, it's just complex and interesting.