Lonnie (writer-director Joshua Leonard) and wife, Clover (Jess Weixler), are ex-idealists—we know this because she wears a Crass T-shirt—now trapped in the motions of setting up a suburban L.A. house for baby. She’s finishing law school and getting ready to go corporate; he’s working in commercial editing. Then Lonnie snaps one day and starts playing hooky from work. When his boss goes apoplectic, Lonnie blurts out that his daughter has died, a fib he spends the rest of the movie scrambling to play along with. The Lie is based on a T.C. Boyle short story from The New Yorker, but moviegoers will remember the scenario from François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, where adolescent Antoine Doinel, who didn’t want to go to school, tells the teacher that his mother died. This was boyish fecklessness, but in Leonard’s hands, such an act becomes proof of adult Lonnie’s soulfulness. It would take considerable skill on both sides of the camera to make this material go, and Leonard, a low-rent Owen Wilson on screen, can’t handle the simplest two-shot behind the lens—though Weixler is an alert, mobile comedienne who deserves better than this awkward pause, nervous stammer, social-anxiety comedy. Fleeing the disturbing material dredged up, Leonard even “fixes” the end of Boyle’s story with meaningless self-fulfillment nostrums, which will mean zilch to young viewers imprisoned by debt and career anxiety.
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