Joshua Leonard’s The Lie is a film about accountability that repeatedly absolves its lead character of the need to have any. Half unfunny comedy that milks laughs from the repugnance of nearly all the denizens of its SoCal setting, not least the protagonist, the film morphs into an earnestly narcissistic exploration of what it means to take responsibility for one’s life that not only allows our hippie man-child of a hero to have his weed and smoke it too, but asks the viewer to forgive his sins in the name of good intentions.
It’s unclear how good these intentions really are, though. When confused family man Lonnie (Leonard himself) can’t bring himself to go into work one day, he rings his boss and tells him his young daughter is sick. The next day, that excuse won’t cut it, so he claims his kid has died, thus setting into motion a train of surprisingly non-emphatic events that causes Lonnie to rethink his priorities. But the lie of the film’s title refers as much to the man’s life as the excuse he tells as a means of escape from that existence. Stuck in a dead-end job, burdened with the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood, our guy just wants to smoke some herb and rock out with his friends, laying down dreadful vocal tracks in his best bud’s trailer home, while that bearded stoner accompanies on guitar.
Essentially a film about balancing the emotional and economic demands of family life with the desire to stay true to one’s ideals (which again mostly involve getting stoned and playing music), The Lie indulges its lead character at every turn, even when we’re asked to regard him as a figure of amusement. In fact, nearly every character in the film’s first half—with the exception of Lonnie’s relatively level-headed wife, Clover (Jess Weixler)—is subject to ridicule. While a wealthy friend of the family brags about her $1,400 stroller and an aging waitress at a diner can’t even solve the most elementary of crossword puzzle clues, Lonnie is introduced as a hapless schlub trying to score medicinal marijuana from a shrink. From there, he’s only made to seem more ridiculous, until the film chucks its tone of superior judgmentalism and asks us to take this dude seriously.
It’s hard to say which is worse: the unfunny caricatures or the indulgent soul-searching. The low point of the later mode comes when the lie is inevitably brought to Clover’s attention and our weasely hero is forced to fess up. Even then he tries to fib his way out of trouble with half-baked excuses, but when he finally comes clean to his unbelievably understanding wife, Lonnie unloads a typically self-obsessed tale of midlife crisis whose confusions result in the need to chuck it all and just get away. But who needs escape when you’ve got such an indulgent wife (and filmmaker)? Turns out our couple can chuck it all together, the viewer can applaud Lonnie’s honesty and forgive him everything even though he hasn’t learned a damn thing, and audience and director alike can embrace a notion of adult responsibility that seems so effortlessly to encompass hippie ideals that it’s a wonder there was any struggle between accountability and freedom to begin with.