At its core, The Lie, directed by and starring Joshua Leonard, is a coming-of-age story for those coming of age. And it’s not just anyone’s coming-of-age story, but one for those from generations X and Y, many of whom are just now experiencing the thrill, anxiety and confusion of real life.
Lonnie (Leonard), who’s reached his wit’s end with work, family and life in general, becomes so disenchanted with his job that, in a desperate attempt to escape another day of desk-ridden hell, tells his boss that his newborn daughter has just died. The folks at his office believe him— including his slave-driving boss, Radko (Gerry Bednob), and Lonnie’s quest to rediscover what makes him tick begins.
Lonnie shares that quest with his wife, Clover (Jess Weixler), who, like her husband, is a free-spirited thirty-something whose righteous passion for organic everything conflicts with the realities of raising a six-month-old daughter. (Spending a little extra on organic grapes is one thing, but organic baby diapers? Really?) Those intentions are put to the test when she’s offered an opportunity to work for a major pharmaceutical company that Lonnie and the couple’s best friend, Tank (Mark Webber), consider just another cog in the capitalist machine. That Clover is even considering the job shakes Lonnie to his core and causes him to question everything he thought he knew about his life and the people in it.
It’s these conflicts—living organically vs. the cost of doing so, damning the Man vs. the financial stability of working for him—that define The Lie, and it’s Tank, the couple’s permanent third-wheel and Lonnie’s long-time bandmate, who serves as an overt reminder of choices made and not made. Tank is the free spirit of free spirits, and his choices reflect those deeply held beliefs: he has no job and lives in a Winnebago parked on an asphalt lot next to the beach. Because of his choices, Tank lives the life to which Lonnie and Clover aspire, and in turn serves as the couple’s go-to life counselor.
What makes The Lie such an endearing and honest study of modern growing pains is its complete submission to the awkwardness that accompanies them. More than once, the film thrusts its viewers into uncomfortably up-close conversations and confrontations. In one such scene, Lonnie plays for Clover a track he and Tank have recently recorded. After a rhythmic opening bar featuring guitar and drums, Lonnie, as the duo’s frontman, enters with a Kurt Cobain-like rasp, grinding out lines about the “soul crusher.” For nearly two-and-a-half minutes the song plays on, with the camera focused on Clover alone. And as it drones along, Clover’s interest in the tune fades as Lonnie’s lyrics become more and more aggressive, finally ending with one last “SOOOOULLLL CRUSHER, BABY!,” and a departing, “Fuck ya’ll.”
While designed to solicit an embarrassed laugh from viewers, the uneasiness of that scene serves a more serious purpose throughout the film—primarily when Clover confronts Lonnie about his lie toward the end of the movie. The ensuing conversation is a heartfelt talk about life and where the path they’ve chosen has led them, with only the tick-tocking of a wall clock to buffer the breaks in dialogue.
The film’s script is spot-on: it’s well-written, perfectly timed—not once do character conversations seem misplaced—and captures the frustrations and revelations of modern growing pains. What’s more, Leonard and Webber give wonderfully believable performances throughout, and although Weixler seems forced at times, she’s perfect in the scenes that count: the super awkward “soul crusher” clip; Lonnie and Clover’s weekend camping trip; the confession from Lonnie; and Clover’s subsequent bare-all with him. And while Webber’s performance as the voice of reason is superb, it’s Leonard as the constantly conflicted Lonnie who makes The Lie the story that it is. His portrayal of a real-life Lost Boy caught between Neverland and the responsibilities of adulthood trashes the tiresome man-child mold to which we’ve all become so accustomed. (Frank the Tank, we salute you.) Instead, Lonnie is genuinely desperate to rediscover the things he cares about most—he just has no idea how to do it. To compensate, he simply abandons everything he hates. It’s that attitude that makes Lonnie the movie equivalent of anyone who’s ever completely given up, of anyone who’s ever felt stuck and said, “What the hell am I doing?” And it’s Leonard’s on-film role as this off-film anyone that makes his character so painfully relatable.
The Lie’s closing scenes are an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise superb film. Following Lonnie’s confession, the pair pack their station wagon with a few essentials (baby included) and leave. They have no destination in mind and no real plan for making a long-lasting adjustment to the way they live their lives. For a film that shuns the white-flag loser—at one point, Tank gives Lonnie an earful about giving up, instilling a bit of ironic advice: “Stop running away from shit, man”—The Lie retreats from what should have been an encouraging end to a thoughtful and affectionate story.
Although the coming-of-age film is a well-worn form, its connection to the real world experiences of its viewers can be lost amidst mindless humor and fantastic plot twists. As a thoughtful and honest reworking of this filmic sub-genre, The Lie leaves a lasting impression as a deeply personal account of so many young and restless lives today.
Writer:T. Coraghessan Boyle (short story); Joshua Leonard, Mark Webber & Jess Weixler (screenplay); Jeff Feuerzeig (additional material)
Starring:Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler & Kelli Garner
Release Date:Nov. 18, 2011