Based on her giant head on the poster, you’d think this was a full-on Reese Witherspoon vehicle, but she’s actually a supporting actress in “The Good Lie”, not even appearing on screen for something like half an hour.
After a glimpse of grown up Sudanese characters boarding a plane to the United States in 2001, we flash back to 13 years earlier and meet them as kids in a remote village that is soon attacked by soldiers involved in Sudan’s civil war (like the kids, we never really understand what it is about), forcing them to flee toward Ethiopia, then Kenya. The first act, which has the characters talking in a subtitled African dialect, is often tense and sometimes downright horrifying, notably in a scene around a river filled with corpses. It’s a miracle that the kids reach Kenya, but then they end up stuck in a refugee camp there for the aforementioned 13 years, until they get their tickets to the U.S.
At this point, the movie grows considerably lighter and more humorous as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” discover various things about the American lifestyle, not unlike Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in “Coming to America” (!), and clash with a feisty, no-nonsense employment agency officer played by yes, Reese Witherspoon, who’s a lot of fun.
All the same, the stars are definitely the three Sudanese guys, who each adapt differently to their new surroundings: Jeremiah (Ger Duany) relies on his faith, Mamere (Arnold Oceng) goes to school to become a doctor and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) smokes pot and wanders aimlessly.
On the whole, “The Good Lie” is a rather conventional picture, but it’s also a bit odd inasmuch as it begins with that harrowing first act in Africa, then it turns into this gentle fish-out-water comedy in America, with some dramatic beats, but no really clear plot. We’re mostly just hanging out with these characters throughout the second act, but then there’s this revelation (I won’t spoil it) that sends Mamere back to Africa on a very personal mission.
Like I said, it’s a bit of an odd structure, but somehow, it works, thanks in no small part to the charismatic lead actors, who are actual Sudanese refugees, and to the confident direction by Quebec’s own Philippe Falardeau, who’s making his Hollywood debut with this film. He didn’t quite knock it out of the park like his countryman Denis Villeneuve with last year’s “Prisoners”, but I’d say he hit a solid double, delivering an enjoyable, well worth seeing picture.