Author T.C. Boyle has written evocatively about an extraordinary range of subjects, but the common thread is an interest in characters whose idealism proves incompatible with reality. Whether they’re hippies (Drop City), environmentalists (When The Killing’s Done), or historical figures like Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle) or John Harvey Kellogg (The Road To Wellville), they face compromises that may be necessary, or may corrupt their souls. Based on a Boyle short story—originally published in The New Yorker, then later in the anthology Wild Child And Other Stories—Joshua Leonard’s perceptive The Lie runs the theme through the common dilemma of new parents who struggle to accommodate an infant. How much of themselves are they willing to compromise to give their child security and comfort? And at what cost?
“The lie” in The Lie is a doozy. Leonard stars as a commercial editor who blanches when his wife (Jess Weixler) announces that she’s been offered a job at a pharmaceutical company after she passes the bar exam. This announcement is made over tofu dogs, which gets to the heart of the matter: Are they going to live by their principles, or become a couple of bourgeois sellouts whose progressivism ends at organic vegetables and G diapers? The next day, Leonard can’t bring himself to go to work, and makes up a lame excuse about his kid being sick. And the day after that, with his boss breathing fire on the other end of the line, he concocts the terrible, untenable lie that his child has died. From there, things spin predictably out of control.
There’s a comic absurdity to Boyle’s premise that Leonard mostly fails to exploit, in spite of showing such a facility for discomforting humor in Humpday. But there’s virtue in taking the genesis of this outrageous lie seriously, especially in a climate where parents are expected do anything for their children, no matter how bitter a pill they have to swallow. The Lie’s payoff strikes an unexpected, refreshingly open note that makes this slight little indie more resonant than its scale suggests. The line this couple is about to cross is significant, and the film takes it seriously.