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Why Would I Lie?

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"Why Would I Lie?" made me very angry while I was watching it, because it is both a glorification of the arrogant stupidity of its central character, and an insult to the intelligence of its audience. Not a bad double play. It's the most offensive example in a long time of the Idiot Plot, which I define as follows:

ld-i-ot Plot (n.) A story for a film, book or play that depends for its continuity on the stupidity of everyone in the story.

In the case of "Why Would I Lie?" the only reason the mysteries in the film are not solved in the first 15 minutes is because nobody in this movie ever does any of the obvious things that every member of the audience would naturally do at once. That creates an enormous frustration on our part, as we're enduring the film, because we know that all the characters have to do is say one or two simple words and their problems are over. We want to shout the answers at the screen.

The movie stars Treat Williams as a spoiled, arrogant upper-class kid who lies compulsively about everything. He thinks it's cute. Because he won't sign a piece of paper, he and his sister and brothers can't share in the family inheritance. Tough. He gets a job as a social worker, falls in love with a little kid, unofficially and illegally adopts the kid, and then goes looking for the kid's mother - who should be out of prison by now.

So far, the movie has been irritating because of the boring behavior of the character, and boring because of the inept handling of an arbitrary plot. But now it starts making us angry, because it creates its suspense out of two plays on names - and neither one should fool, any intelligent person for long.

Trying to track down the boy's mother, whose last name was "Kalinski," Treat Williams goes to a woman's halfway house where she used to live. He is told that many of the women have changed their names after leaving prison. He meets Lisa Eichhorn, a counselor at the center. Her name is "Kay Lindsay.'' Is that close enough to "Kalinski" for you?

Anyway, she says she doesn't know this Kalinski, but she immediately sleeps with Williams, they become friends and lovers, and she meets the kid. The kid's name is Jeorge - with a "J," so the mother would know him if she ever found him again. But Williams has decided to call him Hank instead of Jeorge. So the woman doesn't realize it's her son.

Except, except, except: Why doesn't "Kay Lindsay" ever try to find out why this guy came looking for her under her real name of Kalinski? Why doesn't the kid ever say his real name isn't Hank? Why doesn't the woman ever ask the guy where the kid came from-especially since the guy says it's not his kid? Why doesn't' the guy tell the people at the center that he's looking for Kalinski because he has her kid? (He only says he has "something" for her.)

If any one of these simple actions had taken place, the movie would be over. But no. While everybody's pussyfooting around the obvious in this movie, it complicates things by the offensive addition of a totally off-the-wall subplot involving Kay Lindsay's protector, a woman who gave her a home when she got out of prison and is also, we suddenly discover, a lesbian with jealous designs on her.

But what, exactly, is the relationship between Kay and the lesbian? Who knows. Although they've known each other for years, their relationship is undefined in an awkward and ugly argument they have. And then the movie ends in a nauseating and truly disgusting scene where the little kid finally pipes up that his real name is Jeorge, the mother embraces him, and the movie's over! Without any scenes showing the results of the revelation!

I know this all sounds so stupid and offensive and unbelievably amateurish that it's hard to believe, but . . . why would I lie?

Roger Ebert 76711,271

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Film Credits

Why Would I Lie? movie poster

Why Would I Lie? (1980)


Treat Williams as Cletus

Severn Darden as Dr. Barbour

Lisa Eichhorn as Kay

Gabriel Swann as Jeorge

Valerie Curtin as Mrs. Bak

Susan Heldfond as Amy

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