Is it possible to overcome a major tragedy and still be able to be sane enough to tell the tale? Does it still affect you even though a significant amount of time has passed? What happens when you can never truly escape your past? What can you do to face it? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “The Good Lie,” which followed a group of young people who experienced the worst kinds of horror to face a totally different environment in the United States. Sure, the story needed to be told, but it needed to leave some of the usual Hollywood quirks to tell it the way that it needed to be told.
“The Good Lie” followed Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Jeremiah (Ger Duany) who dealt with a lot of loss and horror from a very young age. They were among the few children in their tribe who survived an attack from the Northern militias that killed most of their loved ones and left many children orphaned. Mamere’s older brother Theo led the group to safety along with their sister Abital as they all trekked thousands of miles to find safety where the soldiers couldn’t kill them. They narrowly escaped death multiple times, even as Theo sacrificed himself to the soldiers in order to protect Mamere who stood up at the wrong time. Paul and Jeremiah were resentful at the time of Mamere’s mistake, but they grew to accept him as their new leader as the four survivors made it to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where they lived for thirteen years. Luckily, they had the opportunity to travel outside the camp when their names were picked as part of a lottery where a certain number of refugees could start anew in the United States. Unfortunately, the trip wasn’t entirely what they bargained for because they were traveling to a world that they were unfamiliar with and had to learn how to behave accordingly. They were met with the same standard fare that employment agency counselor Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon) usually gave her new clients for fear of getting too emotionally attached to any particular case. She lived a very solitary life that was filled with one night stands and a very cluttered house. Mamere, Paul and Jeremiah needed a little guidance since everything was new to them, especially without their sister Abital who was forced to go to another state due to government red tape. A move that didn’t sit well with the brothers. While Carrie thought that she could get them jobs and then move on, she was seriously wrong as the three young men were both struggling in their own ways to adjust to their new lives. She had to enlist the help of her boss Jack (Corey Stoll) to help guide the men into the future they were meant to have. Will a possible family reunion help to mend any growing rifts in this complicated definition of family?
In terms of questions, the movie tried to tell the story of the Lost Boys and Girls of the Sudan through the eyes of a small group of refugees who lived through the horrors and were given the chance to start over. Many people might believe that this is another attempt for Hollywood to sugarcoat a rather complex story that will never have a fully satisfactory ending for everyone involved. Sure, there were a few scenes that indicated such a saccharine conclusion that was filled multiple plot holes that anyone could poke through if they weren’t too careful. Wouldn’t a customs official worth their title be able to see if the person carrying Mamere’s passport wasn’t necessarily Mamere? Couldn’t they just look at the picture? That scene almost made it seem like the movie was taking a blind eye to the fact that the passport photos would have been different? In order to make Mamere’s lie a good one, a little storytelling effort should’ve been given to make the switch a believable one. Although Mamere’s decision to sacrifice his future in the United States was powerful, one brief scene could’ve cleared up any potential holes while still packing the same emotional kick the movie intended to make. Another minor plot hole was the fact as to how Witherspoon’s Carrie was able to become a host family for one particular refugee so quickly without having to jump through any red tap whatsoever. That also could’ve been explained away with a simple caption or explanation that however many months have gone by to make this a reality. Despite those few plot glitches, the movie’s beginning got off to a stellar start by showcasing how the main characters survived their harsh circumstances by shear will and determination when many others would’ve folded a lot sooner. This was definitely a story that needed to be told, but Hollywood needs to attempt it again from a more objective viewpoint the next time around.
As for breakout performances, Witherspoon, Oceng and Stoll led the pack as their characters helped to carry the story and made some crucial decisions that impacted everyone involved. Witherspoon’s Carrie was the perfect embodiment of a rebel who didn’t care about anything when in fact she cared a great deal more than she could ever admit out loud. Witherspoon also made Carrie a memorable character because she didn’t have play Carrie as someone who could easily go into hysterics whenever she felt like it. Her strongest scenes often depicted the character responding to certain events in the film, such as Mamere’s unexpected departure. Witherspoon gave Carrie a look of quiet sadness as she was sad not to see him again, but she still still understood his actions all the same. Oceng’s Mamere provided most of the film’s emotional heft as he dealt with the burdens of being responsible for everyone in his family, including himself. He often put his own needs on the back burner so that his family felt that he was there for them. Oceng made viewers feel Mamere’s pain as he dealt with the guilt of losing one too many loved ones in his life. Even though Stoll largely had a supporting role, he provided some of the movie’s levity and logic as he arrived whenever the movie’s tone veered too far off into one direction. He gave viewers the right time to laugh and the right time to count their own blessings, which is no small feat in itself.
Verdict: Witherspoon and the cast delivered strong performances that could make viewers overlook some of the plot holes, even though they were pretty apparent throughout the movie.
DVD Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)