If you watch enough movies, you will sometimes find yourself in the awkward position of loving what that film is trying to say while realizing it is failing in so many ways at being an actual, watchable movie.
“The Good Lie” is one of those unfortunate movies, as it takes a heartrending tale about Sudanese refugees and then fumbles it through the back of the end zone.
What makes it even more disheartening is it starts off so strong. It begins during the height of the Sudanese civil war in the 1990s as we meet a group of children who are orphaned after their village is attacked.
Left to survive on their own, they walk hundreds of miles across the heart of Africa encountering all manner of dangers and hardships in search of safety.
The surviving children finally make their way to a refugee camp, where they spend the better part of a decade growing into young adulthood.
These “Lost Boys of Sudan” are selected for a program that gives them a chance at a better life in the United States. Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Dunay), and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are separated from their sister Abital (Kuoth Weil) when they are sent to Kansas City and she is sent to Boston.
When the boys arrive in America, that’s where the movie begins to fall apart. They are met at the airport by Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), a harried career counselor who is tasked with finding jobs for these young men.
There are struggles and culture shocks aplenty, with fortunately very few played for laughs. There just isn’t much substance to hang your hat on in the back half of this movie. Corey Stoll shows up as Carrie’s supporting boss and the boys slowly start to find their way, but hardly any of the conflicts get meaningfully resolved and we get an ending dumped on us that is wholly unsatisfying.
Since the movie isn’t based on any actual people, there was a real opportunity here to open up and tell a compelling story instead of just delivering a super-generic version of the Sudanese refugee experience.
You get the impression the script was written after someone read an article about the Sudanese refugee crisis in an old copy of Time magazine.
“The Good Lie” is also a bit culturally tone-deaf, although not egregiously so. Still, you just can’t shake the vibe of self-congratulatory Western privilege for priding itself for “rescuing” a handful of people from their savage homeland while glossing over the hundreds of thousands who remained in the refugee camps.
The story of the Sudanese civil war, of which Dunay, Jal, and Weil are actual survivors (Come on movie! Why couldn’t you have been better?), is an important one to tell.
That’s why “The Good Lie,” in spite of all its good intentions, is so frustrating. It is a story that deserves much more than such a bland, flat retelling. Like most things in this world, merely having your heart in the right place just isn’t good enough.
“The Good Lie” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language, and drug use.