This time of year, it’s easy to want to indulge. But perhaps this is the reason that a quiet, subtle film can sometimes sneak up on you without any warning to knock your socks off. Enter “The Good Lie,” landing on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. the week of Christmas. Will it steal the show at your holiday festivities? Unlikely. Will it warm your heart when you do sift through all the dirty dishes and torn wrapping paper? No doubt about it.
I’ll come clean and declare that I’m not really a big Reese Witherspoon fan. I don’t dislike her necessarily, but I’ve always thought she is ever so overrated in most roles and overacts quite frequently. That’s perhaps the most refreshing thing that I took away from “The Good Lie,” which takes a story about a family’s willingness to survive a brutal African genocide and morphs it into something so much more. Witherspoon gets top billing as per usual, but her transformation from the film’s beginning to its end is not the only thing at play here, and rather than jockey for absolute power, she lets the real story at hand develop and grow into something quite moving and powerful. Kudos to her from stepping back for once rather than forward.
You’d think with all this good karma, “The Good Lie” would have cleaned house at the box office. Not the case at all. Made on a nearly $20 million budget, the film brought home less than $3 million. Lacking excessive bells and whistles might have been a reason why, but people who don’t experience this title are missing something special. Those who have the ability to see it but choose not to? Well, they’re just misguided.
The film’s first half hour or so establishes the brutality these refugees, simply known as the ‘Lost Boys,’ were desperately working to escape from. Mamere (Arnold Oceng) and Theo (Femi Oguns) are sons of the Chief of their village in southern Sudan, but when northern militia fighters destroy their homes and murder their parents, Theo takes over as chief and leads a group of young survivors away from the harm, including his younger sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel). After some intense challenges, they make it to a Kenyan refugee camp where they meet Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal), who together, with their faith and handy skills, help solidify the group.
Witherspoon plays Carrie, a good-hearted single woman who seems to struggle to do the day-to-day things in the right way. She’s lonely but won’t admit it and frustrated but can’t confront the reasons why. Her job is to help find other people jobs, and when they’re successful, so is she. One unsuspecting day, she encounters Jeremiah, Mamere and Paul after their arrival in Kansas following a thirteen year wait to flee Africa. Carrie agrees to take them on with guidance and support toward employment.
The film’s humor comes with the simple and gentle demeanor each refugee projects toward Carrie’s efforts to direct their new American lifestyle. She takes them to interviews, but they don’t even know what light switches or telephones are. She explains everyday American customs, but they need clarity on the balance each one provides for them. As “The Good Lie” moves forward, the trio begins to think about getting their sister and friends out of their war torn nation, and look to Carrie for help.
“The Good Lie” is at its best when Carrie begins her own casual internet research to begin advocating for the refugees. As she looks at gruesome images and stands in two hour long lines at an immigration office, we notice her willingness to open up in an effort to put others before her on a personal level, not just a professional one. The reserved ways that director Philippe Falardeau and writer Margaret Nagle make this occur are lacking with over the top pomp and circumstance, but they sure are effective.
What I appreciated the most is that “The Good Lie” is not a feel sorry for me story, or, really, even a feel good story. It’s a story that demonstrates what can happen with a little enlightenment and creativity. There are so many similar titles that think they need violence, over the top effects and other gimmicks to really make their points, but it is a film like “The Good Lie” which keeps all others like it in check.
At PG-13, “The Good Lie” is probably too much of a reach for little ones, but adolescents could likely benefit from its desire to inform and advocate. Heck, so could we all.
“The Good Lie” is presented in a 1080p High Definition 1.85:1 video transfer that uses natural light and bright colors to put out a solid image throughout. Minimal grain is here, and while the cinematography is about as traditional as you can envision, the best scenes are in the early moments where our refugee friends are working to escape. They’re tightly edited and cut, bringing a valuable authenticity to the film as a whole.
The English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack is more than adequate for a film like this. It won’t blow you away, but it also won’t let you down. Natural background noise could have had a more substantial role than it does, but I’m not complaining because I could hear the friendly banter and all spoken words from start to finish. Other soundtracks provided include Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and French selections, with English, Spanish and French subtitles available.
A standard definition DVD and digital copy accompany the Blu-ray disc. There is one featurette that illustrates the film’s creative approach to use the real story as a resource, as well as several deleted scenes.
A Final Word:
“The Good Lie” will surprise you if you give it a chance. And considering what these refugees had to go through to survive, a chance seems like little to ask for.