A young Angeleno’s brief rebellion against adult responsibility drives “The Lie.” Actor turned first-time feature helmer Joshua Leonard’s adaptation of a sharp, funny T.C. Boyle story necessarily expands the material, but the alterations and additions made — including his own casting in the lead — are seldom improvements. Thinly amusing tale with not-especially-appealing characters looks likely to bypass theaters for home formats after fest travel.

Lonnie (Leonard, of “Humpday” and “The Blair Witch Project”) works an editorial job he hates while spouse Clover (Jess Weixler, “Teeth”) finishes law school; they’ve got a 6-month-old daughter. All this leaves precious little time for chillaxin’, let alone making music with Lonnie’s old pal Tank (Mark Webber), who remains at slacker liberty living in a trailer at the beach.

One day Lonnie simply can’t bring himself to go to work, inventing an excuse (“The baby is sick”), and has a swell, revivifying day all to himself. The next morning he again skips the 9-to-5 grind, blurting to his boss that the baby has now died. This buys him a few more days’ freedom, as well as outpourings of grief from hitherto distant co-workers. But this big lie is sure to explode in his face when discovered.

In place of the source material’s giddy comic energy, verging on nervous breakdown, the pic substitutes a woozy dramedic tone whose lack of focus is underlined by what too often sounds like improvisational dialogue that’s seldom very funny or insightful. (Script is credited to the three main actors plus Jeff Feuerzeig, “additional dialogue” to other cast members.) Other notable departures from Boyle’s story include making principal characters inarticulate, rather childish Gen Y types, and an added fadeout of the “What the hell, let’s chuck it all!” ilk.

These changes would be fine if they added depth, wit or sympathy. But while that was likely the intent, the results diminish the material instead. Lonnie and Clover are figures we’re meant to find cute and relatable, but many viewers will find them merely irksome. At the end, we’re supposed to assume they’ll find their nonconformist path; as sketched, however, it seems more likely these folk will wind up sponging off their parents.

Leonard shows more promise handling the pic’s physical assembly, which demonstrates a modest, breezy feel for mixing up visual and aural textures.

The Lie

  • Production: A Perception Media in association with Das Film presentation. Produced by Mary Pat Bentel. Executive producers, Sriram Das, Mitchell Goldman. Co-produced by Daniel Long. Directed by Joshua Leonard. Screenplay, Jeff Feuerzeig, Leonard, Mark Webber, Jess Weixler.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Benjamin Kasulke; editor, Greg O'Bryant; music, Peter Raeburn; music supervisor, Marguerite Phillips; production designer, Thomas S. Hammock; art director, Justin Lieb; costume designer, Emily Batson; sound, Sean O'Malley; re-recording mixer/sound designer, Jamie Hardt; assistant director, James Grayford. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 25, 2011. Running time: 82 MIN.
  • With: With: Joshua Leonard, Jess Weixler, Mark Webber, Violet Long, Jane Adams, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, Gerry Bednob, Kirk Baltz, Tipper Newton, Allison Anders, Holly Woodlawn.