During the Sudanese Civl War of the 1980s, a small collective of youngsters who had somehow survived the attacks embarked on a laborious journey to Kenya, hoping to find some solace at a refugee camp. With the eldest, Theo (Okwar Jale) sacrificing himself for the safety of his younger siblings, the remaining few arrive safely, only to then, 13 years on, be granted the chance to resettle in the United States. However while Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) find themselves in Kansas City, the former’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) is left to fend for herself in Boston. That proves to be just one of many issues this group encounters, as they struggle to find work and adapt to a new culture and society, in spite of counsellor Carrie’s (Reese Witherspoon) best efforts.
When the trio first arrive in the States, the film does take a rather patronising turn however, becoming almost comically inclined, taking pointers from Elf when Will Ferrell’s character attempts to adapt to a Western culture he feels so foreign in (while yes, there’s also a brief escalator sequence in this endeavour too). But thankfully this feature is by no means a self-congratulatory piece about the good work the West are doing, and if anything, the most flawed character of all is Carrie, and she’s not painted out in a saintly manner like Emma Stone’s character in The Help is, for instance. In spite of the playful edge that exists, the poignancy remains, and it’s easy to see that Falardeau’s heart is in the right place, wanting to paint these characters out as the victims, which many forget is the case, while ensuring they are always at the heart of their own story – in spite of what the Witherspoon heavy publicity campaign would suggest.
It’s crucial that we do see this world from their perspective too, particularly from the very start, with the entire opening act taking place in Sudan and Kenya. It allows the viewer to embody the roles from their childhood, meaning that by the time they arrive in the States, we see the world through their eyes and their comprehension. As such we become the foreigner, vulnerable, lonely, trying to fit in. You can feel how daunting this experience is, and appreciate how we take things for granted, such as wasting food, for instance. This film makes you proud to be from a nation that does provide homes for immigrants such as those featured – but then mightily ashamed to be part of a society that, in some circles, seeks in rejecting them.
There is no denying, however, that The Good Lie is an emotionally manipulative piece, but if in the right frame of mind, there’s a very good chance of it working. The narrative is moving, and presented in such a way that will tug tirelessly on the heart strings. However Falardeau is just missing that something special, and when dealing with features that are this emotionally rich you need that spark, the difference between a film that sweeps up at the Academy Awards, and one that is ignored altogether. There’s a reason why this film falls into the latter camp, and why by no means a bad film, it’s sadly just not a special one.