TIFF 2014: The Good Lie Review
Inspired by true events, The Good Lie tells the story of Sudanese orphans’ escape to Kenyan refugee camps, and their subsequent asylum in the United States. The journey is a harrowing one, made no less so by their incredible culture shock on arrival in America with only a surly aid worker (Reese Witherspoon) for guidance. They learn to adapt to a world that barely understands them, while also discovering themselves in their new freedom.
What could have easily been a schlocky feel-good film actually had a fair bit of depth to it. The Good Lie pulls no punches when showing the horrors the Sudanese children escaped, and while their misadventures in the US are played for laughs they are fortunately not cruel ones. In fact the Americans they meet are shown to be just as ignorant in their own way, and everyone is forced to adapt. Once they arrive in the US the story becomes fairly straightforward and formulaic, with a payoff that is somewhat baffling. But it still struck an emotional chord with me, and hopefully will do some small part in opening its audience’s eyes to the plight of Sudan’s refugees.
What shocked me was the reveal in the credits that the Sudanese characters were played by actual Sudanese refugees and former child soldiers. This was an incredibly bold choice and one that I commend. Their performances were strong and in retrospect gave the film more weight, as it jars you out of the comfort of watching fiction and back to the reality that these sorts of stories are all too common. I applaud Ger Duany for being a part of something that must have been a very personal journey.
I went into this film with quite a bit of trepidation. Based on the film’s marketing I was under the impression that I’d be watching the story of how a free-spirited white lady saved the lives of some backward immigrants. I could have easily overlooked it on that assumption alone, but I am so very glad that I didn’t because I was so very wrong. Witherspoon’s is in no way the main character of The Good Lie, no matter how large her name may be on the poster. Her character joins the story nearly 40 minutes into the film, after we have witnessed the brave struggles of the refugees and their arrival in the US. She plays an important role, certainly, but to have billed her has the lead is disingenuous to say the least. I would assume it was solely the Hollywood hype machine responsible, but at the moment the IMDb page has all of the Caucasian actors listed first, and the Wikipedia article doesn’t have any of the Sudanese actors listed at all. I can only shake my head at how a film intended to share the story of the Lost Boys seems to have lost itself.