When you hear a quick description of what The Lie is about, you’re going to think you don’t want to see this movie.
Ready? Okay. *deep breath* – (and spoiler alert) … It’s about a guy who skips out of work by claiming his baby has died.
Wait, wait … Hang on, just for a moment. Keep reading, because this ultra-low-budget dark-comedy also may be one of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival’s most touching family dramas.
Josh Leonard (Humpday, The Blair Witch Project), who wrote the screenplay, directed and stars in The Lie, actually plays the dissembling man as a very good, devoted father. He’s just a horrible, horrible employee. “The lie about the baby dying, I feel like, even for that guy, was inadvertent,” Leonard says. “He just panics and it’s what came out. And it’s the worst.”
The movie does not make fun of the loss of a child. Throughout the movie, the kid is happy and never in danger. (And the poster for the film, featured here, isn’t hanging a baby — the letters and the figure of a child are just supposed to be part of a newborn’s mobile, though Leonard finds himself explaining that a lot.) The Lie gets its dark humor from the cowardice and desperation of a man who would even think such a thing.
But Leonard isn’t kidding himself. He acknowledges it could be one of Sundance’s more controversial entries. “This is absolutely taboo,” he says. “There is this comedy aspect of it, but in summing what the actual lie is, you leave very little latitude for people to get into the heart of the piece. Some people stop listening.”
Adapted from a short-story by T.C. Boyle, the main character works a mind-numbing job he hates. But after playing hooky too many times, the old excuses aren’t working anymore and he finds himself getting screamed at on the phone. So he blurts something so shocking that his boss — who was about to fire him — cannot help but back off.
Then he’s really screwed.
“This is a guy who throws a hand grenade on his life, and the core of the movie is the five days before it blows up in his face,” Leonard says. “He’s not dumb enough to think he can get away with it, but he doesn’t have a backup plan.”
Co-workers who once loathed their lazy colleague now bring food and gifts of cash to his house. His oblivious wife (Teeth‘s Jess Weixler) puzzles over why everyone is suddenly being so generous, while they marvel at her composure. Inside, the unseen baby is healthy as can be. The very cringe-worthy comedy wouldn’t work if the man didn’t deeply love the kid, Leonard says.
The tyranny of kindness faced by the father only amplifies his guilt, but his one refuge is the little baby, who becomes his confessor as he apologizes repeatedly and profusely. “He can’t tell the truth to anybody, so the baby is the only conduit where he could truthfully reveal how he feels,” Leonard said.
Of all people, parents of little kids may find the most to relate to, since it’s about a mother and father struggling with those responsibilities. Leonard knows they’re also likely the hardest group to win-over. “I very much hope parents can see it,” he says. “Some people might have a knee-jerk reaction to the subject matter, but for me, it spoke very directly to the notion of grappling toward adulthood.”
Leonard has never been a parent himself, though he has logged “a lot of uncle time and I’m godfather to my best friend’s kid.” He has told a similar lie, though — and felt the guilt of it, too. “I claimed my father had an aneurysm once,” he says. “I was superstitious about it for years to come.”