The Good Lie

Posted on October 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language and drug use
Profanity: Brief strong language and some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Very disturbing violence including mass killings, guns, machetes, many characters injured and killed, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Copyright Warner Brothers 2014
Copyright Warner Brothers 2014

“The Good Lie” wisely casts Reese Witherspoon and Corey Stoll, who are outstanding as always, as sympathetic employment agency representatives helping refugees from Sudan find work in Kansas. And then it even more wisely keeps those characters in the background to allow the heroes of the story to be the refugees themselves and the real-life survivors of genocide in Africa who play the roles. Thankfully, this is one movie that is not about white people being spiritually enriched by saving people of color. And it is not about white people being spiritually enriched by learning important lessons from people of color. It is about people who have survived unimaginable loss who find a way to live with honor, strong connections, and resilience. Reese Witherspoon may be in it to reassure us that it is not a spinach movie, but even without her undeniably appealing role, the film would succeed because it is true-hearted, warm, wise, inspiring, and funny.

When their village is wiped out by genocidal marauders in the Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005. More than two million were slaughtered and more than 20,000 surviving children, mostly boys, walked for hundreds of miles, many more dying along the way. Those who lived made it to refugee camps that were barely able to take care of them, and where they stayed for a decade or more. A small percentage immigrated to the United States. This story focuses on four survivors, the gentle Manerre (Arnold Oceng), the faithful Jeremiah (Ger Duany), and the angry Paul (Emmanuel Jal), who were sent to Kansas, and their efforts to be reunited with Manerre’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel), who was separated from the only family she had ever known because no home in Kansas would take her in.

Witherspoon plays the harried employment agency aide assigned to help them find jobs and has no interest in any further involvement with their lives. Cory Stoll plays her boss, who lives on a small farm, with cattle who give the Africans their first familiar sight since arriving in the United States.

Screenwriter Margaret Nagle and director Philippe Falardeau (who showed great sensitivity to cross-cultural issues faced by immigrants in “Monsieur Lazhar”) deftly avoid the too-easy feel-good conventions like romantic happy endings and the too-easy laughs of cultural differences.  When a well-meaning but not very well-informed greeter welcomes them with a lime green jello mold, the refugees’ bewilderment is a reflection on America’s warmhearted intentions but cultural myopia.  The same with Witherspoon’s character — her failure to learn the most fundamental basics about the skills and knowledge of the people she is trying to place is based on ignorance and lack of empathy in part, but also in a kind of imperishable optimism about the ability of all people to adapt.  There is never a suggestion of making fun of the Africans for being provincial, even when one of them asks tentatively if he needs to be looking out for lions.  They are never reduced to being cute or cuddly.  And while they have strong cultural and familial ties, each is given the respect and dignity of his own temperament and priorities.

In the refugee camp, one of the men wears a donated “Just do it” t-shirt.  When he finds out he is going to America, he says, “We can finally find out what this means.”  It is always going to be fun to see outsiders respond to elements of American life we take for granted, from escalators to airplane food, from shelves with twelve kinds of Cheerios to dumpsters full of edible goods.  The Africans give us a fresh look at our own lives, but what matters here is the way they hold onto what is most precious to them, their heritage, each other, while pursuing the opportunities this great, if imperfect country offers them so imperfectly.

Parents should know that this film includes genocidal violence with guns and knives, entire villages wiped out, many characters killed including parents, some disturbing images, some strong language, drinking, drug use, sexual references and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: How did the responses of each of the refugees to living in the US differ and why? What could the Americans have done to be more helpful and understanding? Why was it important for them to name their grandfathers?  Why was courtesy so important?

If you like this, try: the documentaries “The Devil Came on Horseback” and “God Grew Tired of Us” and read more about the Lost Boys both in Africa and in the United States.

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FREE Tickets to “The Good Lie” on Sept 30, 2014 in DC!

Posted on September 28, 2014 at 11:50 am

Based on a true story, “The Good Lie” is about young survivors of the brutal civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983.  These children traveled as many as a thousand miles on foot in search of safety.  Fifteen years later, a humanitarian effort would bring 3600 lost boys and girls to America.  Played by real-life refugees Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, and Kuoth Wiel, the survivors face a new set of challenges when they arrive in the US.  Reese Witherspoon and Corey Stoll co-star.

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