It’s about forty minutes into The Good Lie, before we see the film’s lead star Reese Witherspoon. That’s important, and a comment to the film’s success, because The Good Lie isn’t about Reese Witherspoon, and rightly so. The way in which the film has been marketed, with the academy award winning actresses’ face plastered all over the poster, looking into the far distance, face glowing in gold, is in itself a ‘good lie’ – a way of getting people’s bums on seats. I was lead to believe that this would be nothing other than another vanity project – a schmaltz-fest, that would shy away from the brutality of its subject matter. Well, what can I say, sometimes I’m just wrong.
The film, which deals with Sudanese refugees (known as The Lost Boys of Sudan), allows room for development of the characters, and drama, at the centre of it. The first act, set in war torn Africa, shows how the central characters’ village is ripped apart by soldiers, leaving their parents dead. For the next half hour, the film depicts the children’s harrowing 400-mile walk to Kenya, where they must survive the elements, as well as the advancing mercenaries. This opening segment is easily the most interesting part of The Good Lie – it’s tense and moving, and could have easily been a film in its own right. Whilst I don’t think the rest of the film really works as well as its opening, the introduction at least gives us enough background to raise the emotional stakes.
Fast forward thirteen years later, and the surviving children, now young adults, are given the opportunity to escape their refugee camp, with a one way ticket to America. This is where we’re finally introduced to Witherspoon, as the take-no-prisoners employment counseller, responsible for finding the refugees work. The kind of culture clash comedy, that we’ve all seen before in films like Cool Runnings, starts to come into play from here on out – although, it must be said that these moments never come at the expense of the drama. The humour hits all the usual fish out of water notes, with varying degrees of success, as the characters from Africa come into contact with Mcdonalds, Pizza, and telephones. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but there’s a really good joke about Fargo.
Fortunately, the laughs are few and far between, albeit intentionally. The Good Lie never looses sight of its main goal, which is to portray the horror which the thousands of African people had to endure, and the long lasting effect it can have on the people. Guilt is a recurring theme, as the ‘chief’ of their small tribe, Mamere, deals with the loss of his elder brother, for which he blames himself. As the group of friends come to terms with their new lives, the western world, and their painful pasts, there are scenes that are surprisingly moving and powerful. What makes the drama resonate deeper, is the fact that the majority of the African cast are made up of former refugees, who have literally suffered the same tribulations as their characters.
I was expecting The Good Lie to be a mixed bag at the most, but found it to be one of this year’s biggest, and best surprises so far. Tense in moments, consistently touching, and best of all, a fitting tribute for not just refugees from all over the world, but the humanitarian work that is vital to their survival. It kept my attention throughout, it made me laugh, it made me cry. I couldn’t have asked for more than that.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com