Guess what, white people? Not everybody needs your help!
Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are four Sudanese refugees who, after having left their homes in 1988 and spent 13 years living in a refugee camp together and bonding. But now, it’s the year 2001 and they are finally ready to come to America, “the Land of Opportunity”. Upon arrival though, they already have some issues in which Mamere gets misplaced with another family, from another town, leaving the rest of the three to feel slightly disjointed. However, they know that it is their time to make up and do what they can to survive in America’s society and common day workplace. This is why they believe Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), an American employment counselor, is their own version of an angel, even though she doesn’t want to ever think of herself in that way, ever. But once the fellas get acquainted their living-quarters, their jobs, and just how everything works in America, they start to realize that maybe this isn’t all that they wanted in life. Or maybe it is, they just don’t know how to get by the problems they faced when they were younger.
Yes, while everything about this movie shouts “GLAMORIZED, HOLLYWOOD-VERSION OF REAL-LIFE TRAGEDIES”, there’s something surprising here in that it’s not fully what you expect. While it may be a PG-13 movie that, most of the time, glosses over certain, painful hardships that its subjects were victims of, something here about the Good Lie still hit harder than I expected to. Better yet, more than I wanted it to.
And I think this is because Philippe Falardeau spends most of his time focusing on our three main protagonists: Jeremiah, Paul, and Abital. See, it would have been totally easy for this movie to just make it all about the rich, better-off white people coming in to save the day whenever these fellas ran into a little bit of trouble, but it’s usually not like that. Now, that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t try to hit us over the head just a bit with the white guilt idea that there’s always Caucasian right around the corner to help out any black individual in need, but it’s not over-done.
More or less, it’s done in a way that makes it seem reasonable; these three characters are coming into America, so obviously, they would need at least some assistance in getting their feet on the ground. Meaning, they’d need jobs, a place to live, some guidance in how different the cultures are, and just how exactly to survive in the wacky and wild place that is America, the land of opportunity. So yeah, though we get plenty of instances in which we spend more time getting to know about Reese Witherspoon’s, or Corey Stoll’s service-worker characters, it’s not done in a way to take the spotlight off of those who matter the most.
But anyways, I digress.
Back to what I was saying about the three main characters here, they are the ones who deserve the most attention here, seeing as how this is not only their story, but they are also the real reasons why this movie works. In terms of how much this movie glosses over these character’s tragic, rather disturbing upbringing in Sudan, when the movie transports them to America and we see how they interact with everything and everyone around them, it’s interesting and rings a lot of truth. Sure, there’s plenty of silly fish-out-of-water scenarios in which these guys don’t know what a telephone is, or how it’s used, and there’s even a nice bit of product-placement for Pizza Hut, which are all played up for cheap laughs. Sometimes effective, but mostly cheap.
But when the movie steps away from this and focuses on how hard it is for these guys to maintain a hard-working, paying-job, whole also still holding on dearly to the morals they were brought up with and continue to believe in, no matter where they go. Because honestly, when you’re working and making money, it’s quite easy to lose a sense of who you really are; one second, you’re giving any bit of your nickels and dimes to homeless men/women on the street, but the next second, you could be trying your hardest to avoid them. It’s all a matter of the type of person you are and I think that’s what this movie addresses the most. Sure, it’s hard to keep a job in America as is, but keeping a job in America that clearly doesn’t always gel with what you fully believe in, now that is especially difficult.
However, like I’ve made a mention to before, the movie doesn’t continuously whack us over the noggin’, trying to get these thoughts into our heads – it just serves them up on a silver platter, asks us to gaze at them, and make up our own minds about what we want to do with them. We, the audience, can toss this off to being, yet again, another hokey piece of melodrama that’s profiting off of real-life tragedies. Or, we, the audience, can choose to see this movie for what it is and try our hardest to connect to what it’s saying, and who it’s speaking out for.
The choice is up to us, the audience. Not just in this case, but always.
Anyway, I know I’m doing it again where I get further and further away from the review of this movie and more to my own wild ramblings, so I’ll just try to wrap things up. Before doing so, however, I’d like to speak about these three main characters once more, as they truly are the reasons why this movie works so well. Not just in the way they are written though, it’s mostly in due part to the acting by the trio of leads, most of whom don’t seem like they’ve ever had any prior-training to this. However, it totally works for the movie because it makes us seem like we’re watching real-life African guys come over to the U.S. and learning the steps as they go along.
That said, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal are all good in their roles, respectively, and you can tell that they have a nice bit of chemistry between the three of them that makes you believe in them; not just as their own respective characters, but as life-long friends who consider themselves “brothers”, especially after all that they’ve been through together. And though they don’t get much character-development other than “they are all kind-hearted spirits”, the movie doesn’t try to make them look perfect, either; one character especially goes down a dark path and while you can see it coming a mile away down the plot-line’s path, it still rings true enough that it works well enough to make you not just feel bad for these characters in particular, but for anybody who has ever had to cross over into America, just for a better life and opportunity.
If only more people had that opportunity in their lives.
Consensus: While most plot-archs are conventional, the Good Lie still doesn’t wholly give into the usual, Hollywood-ized version of events that are supposed to make all us white folk feel happy, and/or safe. There’s some sadness and heartbreak here, but most of all, there’s hope, and that’s what matters the most.
7 / 10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images