We saw trailers for The Good Lie for months in 2014, and planned to watch it, but the film was never released in Winnipeg. Now it’s available on DVD. I guess someone determined that no one was going to pay money to watch a film about young Sudanese refugees coming to Kansas City. What a shame, given that some of the African scenes would have looked gorgeous on the big screen and that millions of people are watching films like American Sniper instead.
A few years ago, I read a wonderful novel by Dave Eggers called What is the What, which is based on the true story of one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan. These ‘lost boys’ were young boys caught in the Sudanese civil war who lost their parents and were forced to walk hundreds of kilometers, facing all kinds of dangers, in search of refuge. Eventually, most of these boys found their way to refugee camps in Kenya, from where some were able to emigrate to the United States. The Good Lie is about three of these boys (Mamere, Paul and Jeremiah) who, after thirteen years in a refugee camp, come to Kansas City, where they struggle to build a life in a very foreign environment.
Fortunately for these young men, they are helped in this process by Carrie Davis (played by Reese Witherspoon), an employment counselor who is at first reluctant to get involved in their lives (I’m sure she was trained to maintain clear emotional boundaries, something which she has apparently found easy until now). But as the young men struggle to retain employment and to bring the sister of one of them to Kansas City, Davis, who lives alone (one of the funniest moments in the film is when Mamere looks at her messy house and says: “I can see why you don’t have a husband”), breaks the rules.
Philippe Falardeau’s latest film does not approach the brilliance of his Monsieur Lazhar, one of my favourite films of 2012, but it tells another marvellous story about the plight of immigrants in North America and is full of touching and heartbreaking moments, especially in Africa (where a third of the film takes place). The Good Lie is especially strong in its character development of the three protagonists. Yes, some of the acting and some of the jokes feels a little flat and forced, but when you discover that most of the actors are actual Sudanese refugees, it sheds a new light on this and I must presume that the situations depicted in The Good Lie are authentic.
After watching American Sniper, it was such a relief to come home to a deeply humanizing and life-affirming film, so I will be a little generous and award The Good Lie ***+. My mug is up.