The Good Lie

When I first heard of The Good Lie, at its Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere last September, I knew it was a film I wanted to see.
 
That was reinforced after viewing the trailer and seeing an interview with the stars that took place at TIFF. Brilliant move to make a film about Sudanese refugees with Sudanese refugees as the stars. I eagerly awaited the film’s opening in Ottawa.
 
For some reason it didn’t happen. I don’t think its run was so short that I missed it, I think they decided not to give it wide theatre distribution. I suspect that was so it didn’t compete with Reese Witherspoon’s other film, Wild, for which she has received a Best Actress nomination for this year’s Academy awards. The good news was that it made it quickly to DVD and I have finally able to watch it.
 
From the trailer I was expecting a heartwarming “fish out of water” story, the tale of three young Sudanese men trying to adapt to life in America, coupled with some jabs at the excesses of our society. There was some of that, but this is not a comedy – almost all the funny bits are in the trailer. This is a serious movie that deserves a wider audience.
 
It feels true, though it is billed as fiction; it is based on recent history. In 2001, about the time the United States was accepting the refugees known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” I was briefly in Kenya. I had the opportunity then to talk with some Sudanese refugees about their experiences. That was a sobering experience.
 
Well shot, well-acted, the film tells a believable story. Orphaned children did indeed walk a thousand kilometres to safety during the civil war. Life in a new culture isn’t easy, especially when you are young and traumatized. (And the people of Kansas City, Missouri, come across as pretty clueless, not well suited to help three young men adapt to what might well have been life on another planet.)
 
Theirs was not a smooth voyage; it rarely I for refugees trying to find their way in a new land. These young men sometimes make poor choices. That is what happens in real life – it can be messy and less than perfect.
 
This is a movie with a multiplicity of messages that makes its points without ever becoming preachy. Director Philippe Falardeau uses a soft brush to paint his canvas, not a sledgehammer. (I met Falardeau when he premiered his Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar at Canada’s National Arts Centre, a venue he knows well since he worked as an usher there when he was a student.)
 
If you have read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, you may be familiar with the concept of the “good lie.” If you haven’t it doesn’t matter, because the more important concept, never formally explained, comes not from American literature but from Christian scripture.
 
These young men are Christian (and the war that orphaned them was a religious conflict as well as a political and economic one) though that aspect of their lives is not really explored in the movie. It is just there, understood as being part of who they are. Their beliefs inform their actions, or provide a contrast when they fall short.
 
The film is about love and brotherhood and sacrifice – and choices far deeper than most of us will ever have to make. It is the sort of movie I wish could have a wider audience. But that is unlikely: there are no vampires, spaceships or super heroes. This love story is about family and perseverance, not boy meets girl.
 
If you get the chance, see The Good Lie. You might find it disturbing, or challenging – but most of all I think you will find it inspiring.

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