A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Good Lie is a feel-good drama that centers on the Lost Boys of Sudan, young adults who as children in Africa survived unthinkable circumstances (terrible violence, 1,000-mile treks to refugee camps, and more) and in some cases were lucky enough to win lottery visas to the United States. Expect scenes of heartbreaking tragedy early in the movie: kids who die of starvation and exposure; soldiers who burn a village and kill everyone in it, orphaning the main characters; an older brother who sacrifices himself to save younger siblings and friends. The movie (which stars Reese Witherspoon and shares an executive producer with The Blind Side) also doesn't shy away from showing just how lonely, difficult, and sad it can be to move somewhere new where you're safe but don't understand the culture. There's also some swearing, drinking, drug use (marijuana), and a scene of implied sex (nothing graphic shown). All of that said, despite the upsetting moments, The Good Lie is also hopeful and educational and will encourage audiences to do their part to help war refugees.
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What's the story?
THE GOOD LIE is a heartwarming (and occasionally heartbreaking) drama about the Lost Boys of Sudan -- young refugees from the Sudanese Civil War. When the movie begins, we meet young Mamere (Arnold Oceng) wrestling and playing with his older brother, Theo (Femi Oguns). As they're out in the fields, soldiers arrive in their village and start killing everyone. Theo realizes that he's now the the "chief" of what remains of his tribe -- four younger siblings and cousins -- and decides to walk more than 1,000 miles to a refugee camp in Kenya. Along the way, two of the group members die; the remaining kids meet up with two boys, Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal), from another tribe; and then Theo is forced to join wandering soldiers to save the others. The surviving group reaches the refugee camp, where 13 years later, the four young twentysomethings (Mamere, his sister Abital, Jeremiah, and Paul) all win the visa lottery for refugee status in the United States. When the three young men arrive in Kansas, their employment officer, Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), helps them as they struggle to find jobs. Eventually Carrie, realizing they're all suffering from PTSD, helps the group reunite with Abital, who, as a single woman, was sent to another state.
Is it any good?
Judging by the marketing materials, it would be easy to dismiss The Good Lie as one of those borderline-offensive chronicles of how a charming white person rescued suffering people of color. But that's not at all how this touching drama plays out -- the movie really does follow the Sudanese characters and doesn't turn the story into the Reese Witherspoon show. A star vehicle this is not. Most of the actors who play the four Sudanese refugees (both as children and adults) actually are Sudanese, and in many cases are either the children of or themselves former war survivors and child soldiers.
Director Philippe Falardeau effectively captures the horror of the characters' orphaned childhood experiences escaping Sudan and then the awe and anxiety of their move to the United States. But he and screenwriter Margaret Nagle don't dwell too long on the historical context of the war they escaped; instead, they explore the myriad ways that so much loss can strip a person down to essential needs -- the overwhelming one being a sense of family. The three men all find jobs in Kansas, but what really fuels them is their need to be with their sister (by blood or of the heart) Abital (Kuol Wiel) again. They are their own tribe, their own family, and in this country where the individual is king, recreating that family is what matters most. Witherspoon and Corey Stoll, who plays her boss, do a fine job showing how they're transformed by knowing these fragile but unbroken young men. Ultimately this is the sincere, uplifting story of Sudanese transplants who've experienced so much trauma but manage to still hold on to faith, family, friendship, and hope.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Good Lie's messages. Is it hard to watch dramas with violent/upsetting scenes even if you know the take away will be positive/uplifting? What audience do you think the movie is intended for?
The movie is based on a true story. How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers change the way things happened in real life?
How well do you think the Lost Boys' experience is represented in the movie? What did you learn about the Second Sudanese Civil War? Do you think the movie explained enough about the context of the war and the massive refugee camps in which these young survivors lived?
Some critics have been wary of how the movie's marketing materials focus on Witherspoon rather than the Sudanese characters. Is that troubling, or do you think it's fine since the movie itself isn't just about the American character?
- In theaters: October 3, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: December 23, 2014
- Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Corey Stoll, Thad Luckinbill
- Director: Philippe Falardeau
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language and drug use
- Last updated: June 19, 2020
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