Title: The Lie

Director: Joshua Leonard

Starring: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Gerry Bednob, Jane Adams

The directorial debut of Joshua Leonard, “The Lie” is an uncommonly assured and engaging portrait of post-millennial and particularly male uncertainty, and how the snowballing effects of impulsive dishonesty will eventually run you down from behind like a jackrabbit. Buoyed by strong performances, this meagerly budgeted but intelligently scaled and smartly told indie film deftly takes the pulse of anxious, arrested times.

Married Los Angelenos Lonnie (Leonard) and Clover Leonard (Jess Weixler) were once upon a time go-it-their-own-way idealists. Now, faced with raising a two-year-old daughter, they’ve come to also face some of the material realities of adulthood, and aren’t sure they like what they see. As Clover wraps up her final year of graduate school, she receives an appealing job offer from a pharmaceutical company — the sort of place she wouldn’t have ever considered working years earlier.

Lonnie, on the other hand, is barely scraping by at a commercial editing job, where he’s reached his maximum capacity for pretending to care, thanks in large part to a screaming boss (Gerry Bednob, of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) who rides him like a rented pack-animal. Not much helping matters is Lonnie and Clover’s friend, Tank (Mark Webber), who lives in a van down by the beach and provides an ever-present reflection of all the carefree, guileless nonchalance of their younger years. Lonnie doesn’t lust for other women, but he is put off by the offhand, public manner in which Clover reveals her job offer. A bit emasculated, and a bit jumbled and confused, he starts skipping work and then retreats back into occupational fantasies of music, where he pens a not-very-thinly-veiled screed against workaday responsibility called “Soulcrusher.”

Lonnie also tells a lie. Pressed by his boss, he impetuously says that his daughter has died. This gets Lonnie off the hook for a few days and gives him space to breathe, and recoup his energy and focus. Naturally, though, it is a respite of invisible constraints and limited duration. When sympathetic co-workers start bringing over casseroles, and then even take up a financial collection, it seems only a matter of time before Clover finds out about Lonnie’s galling dishonesty.

Throughout, “The Lie” captures in convincing fashion the deeply held ambivalence of a generation that grew up in peacetime but then saw the world change momentously with the events of September 11, two wars and a near-worldwide financial collapse. An adaptation of a T.C. Boyle short story, “The Lie” is not explicitly about any of those events, but it is about feeling out of place and under-equipped to handle the challenges of modern-day adult life, which is very tied to those occurrences.

Notably, Leonard’s film also bears a passing thematic and tonal resemblance to Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go.” Whereas the young parents-to-be in that film hit the road and grappled with feelings about not being ready to be caregivers and not having the answers or knowledge that they felt they would and should have as adults, the characters in “The Lie” are already parents, and rooted in one place. They are, however, no less shot through with uncertainty. Leonard, too, has an intuitive understanding of his (and his cast’s) ability to convey nuanced specificity, and doesn’t dive headlong into cheap drama. “The Lie” could take the same concept and go places that are bigger, and have more outlandish or starkly defined stakes. Instead, it keeps things intimate, and ergo feels unerringly honest about its characters’ motivations, as well as their reactions.

It’s naturalistically acted, and strikingly captured by cinematographers Brigitta Csiki and Benjamin Kasulke. Leonard also locates smart points of metaphorical comparison and connection; Lonnie’s editorial cataloguing of different drips of sauce feels like a perfect symbol for the droning frustration of a marriage (necessarily) in flux. Its endgame is somewhat preordained, but still handled with a sensitivity that makes it feel special. There’s also a unique combination of enervated fretfulness and sanguine hopefulness in “The Lie,” giving voice to the contradictory impulses inside each of us.

Technical: B+

Acting: B+

Story: B

Overall: B

Written by: Brent Simon

The Lie

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By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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