Good Lie, The (2014)
Director: Philippe Falardeau
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal
Plot: Sudanese refugees given the chance to resettle in America arrive in Kansas, where their encounter with employment agency counselor forever changes all of their lives.
Rating: NC16 for thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language and drug use.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
You will find out what "good lie" really means in this heartwarming story about Sudanese war refugees who are lucky to find a better life in America. Co-produced by Ron Howard (who directed films like Apollo 13 (1995) and Rush (2013)), The Good Lie is a polished if glossy Hollywood production that could have easily skimmed the surface of its dramatic potential, and its content milked for emotional manipulation.
However, while it doesn't hide its Hollywood flourishes, it puts heart into the subject matter, and in some way, elevating the film away from being one of those well-intentioned Hollywood movies about a different culture with a moral message. All the marketing efforts have banked on star Reese Witherspoon to sell the movie, but she doesn't make an appearance until after the half-hour mark.
Her performance is okay, not particularly great, but she plays a lonely busy-bee company executive whose job is to help find jobs for new immigrants. She doesn't care about anything, and her house is in a mess. Into her life comes three Sudanese brothers, displaced from the civil war, and striking the human rights lottery that brought them to the States.
The Good Lie is funny in a sweet way as it plays with cultural differences, and it works as a decent, even educational film. Under the hands of director Philippe Falardeau (It's Not Me, I Swear!, 2008; Monsieur Lazhar, 2011), the film brings us into Sudan (the film was shot in South Africa) as we see its natural landscape, the rural villages, and the people struggling to escape war.
We become acquainted with a few orphaned Sudanese kids, and this is crucial because their journey is one that is shared by thousands – now referred to as the "Lost Boys of Sudan". The film doesn't cut short their journey in a quick prologue snapshot, but spends ample time in Sudan, affording us the opportunity to appreciate what their arduous journey means.
Their eventual geographical transition to the States then becomes our transition too, not merely the kinds of superficial forms of cultural transition that are fodder for your typical cross-cultural American comedies, but a deeper emotional transition. As far as the film is concerned, it is presented as likable, accessible and also heartfelt. It is endearing yet bittersweet, and it does enough, without doing more.
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