Dr. Donna Copeland’s
ARNOLD OCENG EMMANUEL JAL GER DUANY
REESE WITHERSPOON COREY STOLL
THE GOOD LIE
If Tracks was a bait & switch in a bad way (it advertised a one woman journey that was nearly anything but), The Good Lie tries to sell us the Reese Witherspoon version of The Blind Side (same producers). In all actuality, this film is nothing of the sort and Witherspoon is almost an afterthought in the story. It’s sentimental nature and predictable plot points might prove too feel good for some, but it’s those same good intentions that made The Good Lie impossible to hate. It’s a humbling film, and while I can almost guarantee some of the comedy moments and irony are thanks to Hollywood poll marketing, the light the film sheds on the Sudanese refugees and their incredible journey is worth dealing with everything else.
When we first meet Jerimiah, Mamare, Paul and Abital they are children, desperate survivors of a raging civil war that left them orphans. The group of children, led by older brother Theo, begins to dwindle as hundreds of walked miles takes a toll. The small group that make it to the refugee camps in Kenya will live there for 13 years before landing on a list that will take them to America. Kansas City, Missouri is where the brothers land. They have never seen a McDonalds, escalator or a telephone. Carrie Davis (Witherspoon) is assigned to help the brothers find employment. She thinks this is another easy, detachable case but becomes emotionally invested in the brother's circumstance.
The key to this film is sympathy and keeping Witherspoon a minor player. This could easily have been written from her character's point of view, but screenwriter Margaret Nagle is wise enough to allow the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ to constantly maintain the focus of the film. The film is divided up into 3 specific acts: Sudan, America and then a surprising third act. The suspense and horror keep us invested in the first act, while the comedy of watching these guys try to adapt to America and all its ridiculous offerings provides the audience a really nice section of film to feel guilty for excess. The third act I won’t talk about, even though savvy movie watchers will be able to see it coming.
Perhaps the film's strongest draw is the anger it might conjure with the audience--as it certainly did with me. In one scene Carrie is frustrated with the brothers because they didn’t make an appointment. She says she has been calling them, pointing to her cell phone, and they have no idea what she is talking about. The script showcases rural America’s cluelessness to other countries' inopportunity. Witherspoon’s limited screen time gives her stronger credibility in the role. The “don’t you know who I am?” Oscar winner seems to be on a career comeback this year after her high profile arrest in 2013.
Final Thought – Impossible to hate, one of the year’s inspiring films.
By: Dustin Chase
The title comes from the Christian religious beliefs of the group of four young adults featured in The Good Lie. It serves as another example of how “the lost boys of Sudan” had to accommodate to an entirely different culture when they were allowed to come to the U.S. As children, they were clearly taught that lying is a sin, but in order to achieve some of their goals, they did eventually have to tell “the good lie”, which they decided was the way to describe lying for a good purpose. Reasonable.
The film begins by showing their somewhat idyllic lives when they are around ages 10-12 in the Sudan. Idyllic in the sense that they are happy, have plenty to eat and can play and have fun. They are civilized in that they can read and have social and ethical/moral rules to adhere to. Soon, however, they are confronted with brutal conditions when soldiers during the Second Sudanese Civil War attack their village and kill all their parents. They are among about 20,000 children who were first told to walk to Ethiopia, then to Kenya, when that turns out to be the only safe place for them to go. They end up walking a thousand miles, and are in the refugee camp for 13 years before they get lucky in being chosen to emigrate to the U.S., when the U.S. State Department begins to realize what is happening in Sudan and gives many of them the opportunity to come to America.
One striking aspect of the film is the absence of any orientation or planning for their introduction to this country. I don’t know whether it was really this bad for the actual people, but the film shows they were essentially dropped off at an apartment without any explanation about such things as bed linens or even the telephone, for example. This happens repeatedly on their jobs as well. No one seems to think to explain to the immigrants step by step how to function in this new world.
Canadian Philippe Falardeau directed the film using a screenplay by Margaret Nagle, which was ten years in development. The story is interesting, and the young men and one woman are engaging and very polite. (I was a bit embarrassed by the behavior of some Americans who seemed to have no clue about the location of Sudan, much less anything about their culture.) It was rewarding to see how quickly the refugees learned and accommodated to a completely different way of life. It’s also gratifying to see the close bonds they they formed to make a family.
Reese Witherspoon plays the role of Carrie who is a counselor for an employment agency run by Jack (Corey Stoll). She realistically portrays a young woman in Kansas City who is spunky and hardworking but, once again, naïve about the orientation needed by her charges. Their comments, though, about her housekeeping and the reason she needs to make some changes in her home are some of the funnier scenes in the film. The two of them demonstrate so well how generous, well-intentioned citizens can accomplish great things for well-deserving, industrious young immigrants.
Highs and lows of life in a war-torn African country, followed by an introduction to the American way of life. What a juxtaposition!
By Donna R. Copeland