Calling into work and lying about your grandmother, or your uncle, or a cousin passing away is a rite of passage for everyone who has ever sat in a cubicle, a free pass to get out of a couple of days work. Most employers, or at least the ones who have got a clue, even understand that it’s as likely a lie as not, and in most cases, won’t bother to follow up. It’s kind of a white lie. But what if that lie were bigger? What if, instead of saying your grandfather died, you told your boss that your girlfried or wife died? Or your six-month-old daugther? That’d make you some kind of asshole.
That’s the untruth that drives the narrative in Joshua Leonard’s The Lie, a modest dramedy that — like some other mumblecore flicks — takes an extraordinary premise and follows it organically to its natural conclusion. This one is based on a New Yorker short story by T.C. Boyle, and stars Leonard as Lonnie and Jess Weixler as Clover, two halves of a young married couple with a baby facing a crossroads in their adulthood. He works a mind-numbing 9-5 job, and she is contemplating using her background in nonprofit AIDS research to go to work for a pharmaceutical company. It dawns on Lonnie that, with the arrival of fatherhood, his idealistic dreams are slipping away, and his wife is quickly becoming a different person than the one he married.
Unable to face another soul-crushing day at his cubicle job, Lonnie calls in, telling his old prick of a boss that his daughter is sick. During that day away from his job, Lonnie begins to appreciate his life and find himself again, remembering the kind of person he was, the person he wants to be again. The next morning, he calls in again, and after his boss threatens to fire him if he doesn’t come into work, Lonnie tells the lie that, as lies this big are wont to do, spirals out of control before he can retract it. He immediately begins to receive consoling phone calls from co-workers, and in a matter of hours, he’s dug in too deep to ever hope to get out.
The Lie is a nifty little indie flick that possesses the sort of authentic dialogue you expect from a script that’s largely improvised (Leonard used T.C. Boyle’s short story as a shell, but the movie was improvised over a three-week shooting period). The couple’s situation is also familiar to anyone grappling with idealism versus reality, job freedom versus the ability to be a responsbible parent, happiness versus financial stability. Where do you compromise and how much of that younger version of yourself to you give up in order to provide your child with material comforts?
The Lie is successful for how relatable the situation is and how much of it rings true (even the lie itself; I’ve heard of someone who told a similar whopper and ended up in similar disastrous circumstances). Unlike a high concept comedy that builds (bad) jokes off its premise, The Lie — like Humpday, which also starred Leonard — asks what if? What if this actually happened, and then it finds the humor and pathos that flows naturally from it. It’s a solid, heartfelt effort, and I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially idealistic young parents trying to find the sweet spot between supporting a child and their own personal happiness.