"The Good Lie" Rings True With Fresh Talent

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"The Good Lie" starts 10/03/14.

Americans have it tough. Which cell phone company gives us the biggest bang for our buck? How secure are our pictures on our i-Phones and Android devices? Which lousy choice will we get to pick from for our next President? Who do I pick up to replace these criminals who keep getting suspended by the NFL for my fantasy league? Do I want Taco Bell or am I thinking Arby’s? Why in the world is Thor a woman in the comics when he’s a man in the movies? Why won’t my cell phone stay charged for the whole day? 

These are “First World Problems,” things that aren’t really that important but what Americans spend an incredible amount of time worrying about. At the beginning of the new film “The Good Lie,” the viewer is taken about as far out of their comfort zone as possible.  South Sudan in the late 90s didn’t have “First World problems.” They had a Third World civil war problem. A quiet farming village that had survived for possibly centuries by respecting the land, the weather, the animals, and living a simple life was attacked by North Sudanese soldiers. When the smoke cleared the only survivors were a handful of children. The eldest among was declared the new chief, and he soon led them on a trek across sub-Saharan Africa some 800 miles to a refugee camp in Kenya, at least as far as he could before soldiers captured him. Do you think they cared what inane celebrity gossip Access Hollywood was reporting? Would you rather pick the kids up from soccer practice in your air conditioned minivan or walk through blistering hot deserts that turn incredibly cold at night, being stalked by lions and hunted by the soldiers who murdered your village without proper shoes, water or survival gear?

Indeed, “The Good Lie” gives the viewer a lot to think about. Those kids spent 13 years in that refugee camp before being granted the opportunity to move to America. Now young men, Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are sent to Kansas City, while their sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) was forced to move to Boston for rather weak bureaucratic reasons. When they arrived at the Kansas City International Airport they were met by a somewhat anti-social social worker named Carrie, played by Reese Witherspoon. She drops them off at their new apartment where another social worker named Pamela (Sarah Baker) shows them such wonders as the light switch, the mattress, running water, etc. The next morning Witherspoon has to barge in to the apartment to get them to job interviews, and she can’t figure out why they never answered her call. Nobody had explained to them how a telephone works.

The “stranger in a strange land” theme is prevalent throughout the film. Most American audiences will be strangers to Africa. The naiveté of the boys is often funny but if you stop and put yourself in their shows, you see it’s all very poignant as well.  Carrie is also out of place, trying to assist these refugees while not truly understanding what it means to be someone of color in America, let alone someone who grew up without all the technology and creature comforts we take for granted.

The film isn’t gloomy—it has a ton of heart as these actors and actresses come across as both likable and sincere. It’s a feel-good movie that will make you appreciate even the simplest things we all take for granted every day. The characters are developed both individually and as a group, and you’ll find yourself mapping out what you think should happen next. I was often wrong, but never disappointed to be. There is an unexpected twist at the end but not a cheesy, contrived sort of thing to prolong a film with nothing left to say. There’s also an interesting “art imitates life” moment when the actors are named at the beginning of the credits. I won’t spoil it; you really should see for yourself. 

Director Philippe Falardeau has crafted a film that doesn't dwell on the harshness of living conditions in war-ravaged Sudan but rather celebrates the spirit of these people to survive and eventually thrive, Witherspoon gets top billing because she's the most recognizable American in the cast, but make no mistake--"The Good Lie" belongs to Arnold  Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, and Kuoth Wiel. It is not unreasonable to assume that the Oscars will look favorably on “The Good Lie.” It’s a film you’ll want to talk about for days after viewing. 

5.0 / 5.0