The Good Lie

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The San Diego Film Festival had a diverse selection of movies last month. Two of them were Reese Witherspoon films. I missed them both, but seeing this at a screening, I found it wasn’t really a Witherspoon movie. Rather, a film that was told from the point of view of a few “lost boys” of Sudan. So the movie trailers and posters lie in billing it as a Witherspoon vehicle, but it’s a good lie. It’s a much more interesting and powerful movie told the way it is, and by not giving her job placement character a story arc where she goes from being a bad girl to someone with a heart of gold. We see that she’s a bit of a slob, she sleeps around, and doesn’t initially care for these three immigrants any more than she does anybody else she’s helping find employment. When she does start caring, the filmmakers (Canadian director Philippe Falardeau and Boardwalk Empire writer Margaret Nagle) don’t go overboard with it. She smiles a bit more, and seems more concerned about their well-being and not just whether or not they’re showing up at their job.

The first 30 minutes of the movie shows the civil war going on, and all the children that trek through the desert – trying to avoid gun fire and the elements – before finally landing in a refugee camp. Perhaps the horrors of what transpired there were toned down to get the PG-13 rating and be more mainstream. It’s hard to fault a film that has it’s heart in the right place, though.

An American program was bringing these refugees to live with foster families, but with 9/11, the program was basically shut down. This fictional story deals with a family that is broken apart  because their sister goes to live with a family in Boston, while they’re brought to Kansas City. The four are played by real “lost boys” and their performance is authentic and powerful. There’s Jeremiah (Ger Duany from I Heart Huckabees), Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and the sister is Abital (Kuoth Wiel).

It was refreshing that Falardeau didn’t rely on so many fish-out-of-water scenarios. One of the many things I disliked about Million Dollar Arm was the many culture shock attempts at humor. Sure, there were a few here, but on a much more subtle level. That might be the guys slowly getting off an escalator at the airport, or spending an extra 30 seconds figuring out how to put a straw in the drink at McDonald’s.

Even with the boss character (Corey Stoll, last seen in This is Where I Leave You), they don’t try to do too much. He’s not screaming at Witherspoon for “getting emotionally involved” with the boys’ plight. He’s actually a very reasonable guy, and he too, cares about them.

I enjoyed how scenes moved me, without being so elaborate. One of the immigrants bringing a bag of oranges to Witherspoon, as a thank-you for all her help. It’s also cute how they pity her for being single. That’s probably a struggle in their homeland, but in America – not so much.

For the few scenes that don’t work (one involves a grocery store manager yelling at Jeremiah for giving a homeless woman food he was told to throw away)…there would be three other scenes that move you.

The film is a tad bland and formulaic. It’s not a great movie, but it moved me and I’m glad I saw.

It gets 3 stars out of 5.

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