When a film deals with a narrative as delicate and emotionally rich as that of Philippe Falardeau’s The Good Lie, you wonder why this has been released post-awards season, disallowing a greater chance to be included in the mix for the Academy Awards. But the reason boils down, predominantly, to one thing: this is sadly not a special piece of cinema, but that’s not to say it isn’t accomplished. Although more crucially, it’s important, as with the current shift towards right-wing populism in Europe at present, this is pertinent timing to release a film that explores the story of the immigrant – in an empathetic, moving way.
We begin in Sudan during the Civil War that claimed so many lives across the 1980s. When a village is attacked, only a small collective of children survive, to then embark on a laborious journey to a refugee camp in Kenya. Sadly, the group arrive with fewer numbers than when they set off – with the notable absence of Theo (Okwar Jale), who seemingly sacrificed his own life to allow his younger brothers and sisters live on. Mamere (Arnold Oceng) and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) have never forgotten that gracious act of kindness, which allowed for them to eventually, now as adults, make the move across to the States, and begin a new life. However while Mamere settles with Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emannuel Jal), he loses touch with his sister, which proves to be one of many strains he encounters, while also struggling to find employment, in spite of the best efforts of counsellor Carrie (Reese Witherspoon).
It’s worth noting that this feature is by no means similar to The Help, taking on the form of a self-congratulatory “white person saves the day” tale, instead ensuring that the protagonists are the victims, the immigrants seeking refuge in a safer place, always remaining at the heart of their own story. It helps that we see matters from their perspective from the very beginning in Sudan, which means that by the time they move to the Western world, we embody the foreigner; we feel that sense of vulnerability and loneliness that they feel, and appreciate how we may take certain things for granted (such as food waste). We also get a sense that these people have not left their country because they want to, but because they needed to – something that ought to be reiterated to a certain Katie Hopkins, or Nigel Farage.
Needless to say, when the protagonists do arrive in the States there is a patronising tone, almost borrowing sequences from Elf, in how Will Ferrell attempts to adapt to a new culture. But what transpires is a moving piece, and while certainly falling into the “emotionally manipulative” category at times, with a rather conventional, cinematic means of storytelling – dammit, it works.