Pretentious, contrived and made with less technical skill than the average film school grad project, pic assembles underdirected cast for drama about a pathological liar who invites three pals down to her country house for the weekend. Anyone who says this will go much further than fests and limited engagements is either lying or deluded.

“Is this supposed to be ironic?” asks a character, referring to a pretentious film being shot within the story of low-budgeter “Lying.” Auds giggled at the line during the projection caught, seemingly wondering the same thing themselves about shorts-helmer M Blash’s feature debut. Pretentious, contrived and made with less technical skill than the average film school project, pic assembles an underdirected cast for a drama about a pathological liar (Chloe Sevigny) who invites three femme pals down to her country house for the weekend. Anyone who says this will go much further than fests and limited engagements is either lying or deluded.

In a spacious country manse, hilltop-perched in what looks like upstate New York, Megan (Sevigny, in wafty mode) prepares the house for a visit from college student and co-worker Grace (Jena Malone, who’s starting to look with each pic more like Nicole Kidman’s belligerent kid sister), Grace’s friend Hella (Halley Wegryn Gross), and slightly older Linda (Maya Goldsmith), whom Megan knows from a yoga class in the city.

Conversation over lunch reveals Megan has told the others she lost her parents in a car accident and inherited the house and a small fortune. That night, Megan’s brother Henry (Henry Gummer) shows up unexpectedly, but she shoos him away.

Over following days, the women play croquet, go for walks, in one overextended and presumably symbolic scene get drunk, dress up in old gowns, and run around the house trying to find the source of a mysterious voice singing operatically whose provenance is never explained. Similarly, Megan runs into a young boy (P.J. Verhoest) lost in the woods, who may or may not be a personified aspect of herself.

Grace starts to suspect Megan is being creative with the truth after a snooping sesh round the house. Meanwhile, at another large house visible half a mile or so away, Sarah (Leelee Sobieski) wanly wanders around her own empty house. She gets out some semaphore flags at one point, and seems to be attempting to signal Megan across the valley — either that, or she’s working on an interpretive dance routine. It’s hard to tell, given the less-than-sketchy script.

Mild amusement, it is hoped intentional, is provided when Megan ropes her guests into making a movie in which they pretend to bestow junk food on starving African babes, repped by brown-skinned dolls. Otherwise, the pic remains a largely humorless 94 minutes. Helmer invokes the influence of Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” and Robert Altman’s “Three Women,” both teasingly oblique studies in femme psychology, but the pic lacks the skill or intellectual depth needed to approach the resonance of such classics.

Craft contributions are subpar, with lensing by Bobby Bukowski consistently out of focus and/or poorly lit. Sound would seem to have been recorded on cheap microphones.

Lying

Production

A Curiously Bright Entertainment presentation of a Catfish Film/PCH production. (International sales: Curiously Bright Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Molly Hassell, David Guy Levy, Jade Healy, Tricia van Klaveren, M Blash. Directed, written by M Blash.

Crew

Camera (color, video-to-35mm), Bobby Bukowski; editor, Beatrice Sisul; music, Christopher Doulgeris; production designer, Tim Grimes; costume designer, Amy Roth; sound, Eric Hill. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 25, 2006. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Chloe Sevigny, Jena Malone, Leelee Sobieski, Halley Wegryn Gross, Maya Goldsmith, Henry Gummer, P.J. Verhoest.
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