October 3, 2014


I did not want to see "The Good Lie." It was assigned to me by my boss at LifeTeen, Christina Mead (benign dictator). I thought: I already know all about the "Lost Boys of Sudan" (young men who were forced to be child soldiers when their parents were murdered during the civil war). Many sad but touching and hopeful memoirs about these events have been written. Many wonderful projects have been instituted to assist refugees in establishing a new life in the United States. It wasn't "compassion fatigue" for me (after all, what have I done to help?), I just thought I knew this story. Boy, was I wrong.

I thought: Why can't we just see the Sudanese themselves? Why can't this be an African film? Why do we need Reese Witherspoon's star power (as good an idea as it is to get people watching the film)? I thought I had seen the film by watching the trailer and that there would be no surprises. I thought all the good laughs were in the trailer. I thought, I thought, I thought. But again, I was wrong.


"The Good Lie" IS an African film. The first half of the film is the main characters as children in Africa. The horrors are not graphic (more like "the banality of evil") but not downplayed either. This film is more interested in what their experiences have done to these "average" young people. Although there is a kind of ensemble cast, we manage to get into each one's psyche and the drama of their lives quite well. We become African with Mamere, Paul, Jeremiah and Abital, journey to the United States with them AND get a good look at our serious ridiculousness through African eyes.

It's the little every day adjusting to survival and displacement that makes up the bulk of the film. Actually, when the tension heightens, we almost want to go back to the little things, the mundane beauty of what it means to be human, which is the most enjoyable part of this unique film that employs so much realism that sometimes it feels like a documentary.


These kids are Christian, carry a Bible with them everywhere they go and talk about Moses and the Bible stories, as well as pray in a very organic and natural way. God is so deeply embedded in African culture that  it would have been a "bad lie" to leave Him out! Not only that, these children are upright, truthful, fiercely loyal to each other, and kind to others they meet along the way. Forgiveness of the murderous attackers/soldiers is not mentioned in the film. It almost feels irrelevant. The kids somehow accept that it just happened. They are more concerned about the future--now what are they doing to do?--and their own interactions and pardons among themselves.


This is a fine, fine film in every way. The soundtrack is exquisite:  not minimalistic and not bombastic. An elegant alternate mix of piano, strings and what sounds like African instruments, as well as a few sung songs (only three, which is two too many in my book) round out the score.


A word about Reese Witherspoon. Reese plays a tough Southern-belle-but-almost-a-redneck-woman, at first uncaring and just "doing her job" as she helps the refugees become acclimated to Kansas City, Missouri. But as she experiences their sincere friendship, guilelessness and true gentlemanliness of these strangers, she begins to soften and enter more deeply into their plight. Reese is just perfect. She does not steal a single scene, and although she's Hollywood royalty, she makes us believe without even trying that she is Carrie, the jaded country girl with the heart of gold who knows that all men are alike and doesn't think life has anything new to show her. Bravo, Reese. Such a classy not classy act!


There is a fabulous (first time I've ever seen this kind of) minor character in "The Good Lie." A sugary-sweet young Christian woman who, unlike Carrie, has no problem stretching to accommodate the newcomers, totally gets what the refugees are going through, and knows how to explain everything to them. You can tell that charity and goodness is just a heartfelt way of life for her. Later in the film she and Carrie bond over shots of Tequila. Yes. There are Christians like this. Real flesh and blood. Not pathological. Not self-righteous. No hidden agendas.


This is a great film for kids, too. Really? Yup. To see how kids on the other side of the world live. How they think. The choices they make. Their heroism.

Why should we watch this film? First of all, in order to "go through" something of the refugee experience. Just think of Iraq and Syria and so many other places in the world where millions have been driven from their homes and their countries, cannot go back and are in limbo in every way imaginable. Second, you WILL be able to relate--at least analagously to these young people. Third, I think the world has some big lessons to learn from African culture: family, joy, heritage, sacrifice, discipline, order, worship, humility, priorities, honor, gratitude, contentment, camaraderie. But we also see the virtuous in our own bonkers American culture. There is African generosity and there is American generosity. Two different brands. African? What you do with a little. American? What you do with a lot.


--I was heartily and loudly chuckling once the little band hits the United States. I mean, it's such a crazy meeting of cultures (with most of the crazy on the U.S. side). It's not about big, dumb, simplistic cultural differences, but deep, subtle and significant ones. It's about getting to the simple truth of everyday things. It was such a swipe upside the head to realize how convolutedly we habitually go about things in our daily lives, rather far from the unadorned truth.

--I wondered at the title and theme of "The Good Lie." Certain lies are told to save lives. Is that really even a question/problem in war time? At the very end of the film, the title will make even more sense, but I still question if this is the theme and proper title.

--There's nothing cliché in this film.

--I never lost interest despite the easy pacing.

--The PTSD comes later. We aren't told/shown everything the kids endured till later. Intermittent reveals. Good storytelling.

--Is there anything as joyful as African singing, dancing and laughter?

--Female screenwriter! Female screenwriter!

--This film made me think about how American women are used to being used in one way and American men in another and we just accept it all now. When the Americans meet the Africans' gentility, their first reaction is: Are you guys for real? And then they have to answer, pleasantly surprised: Yes.  Another way of doing things--perhaps a better way of doing things--is possible.

--The three young adults didn't care about the prosperity of America and don't get sucked up in pleasure and consumerism. They only care about being together.

--Fact: You will get in trouble at work if you are too good and honest.

--You are going to love Theo.

--The chicken joke.

--"Let us give thanks for this miracle food pizza."

--"May we visit your cow?"

--An INCREDIBLE, INCREDIBLE answer to relativism is in this film:
Boss: "What are you doing?" (to refugee working at supermarket who is giving day-old food to a homeless woman at the dumpster--when he was told not to)
Refugee: "It's a sin not to help those in need."
Boss: "Says who?"
Refugee: "Jeremiah."
Boss: "Who's Jeremiah?"
Refugee: "I am."

--I do so want this big-little film to win some Oscars.

--Why do we not see Corey Stoll in, like, every other film that gets made? #underratedactors

--DO stay for the stylish, creative credits and you will find out who these actors really are.

--Daughters of St. Paul (my congregation) are in South Sudan.

--"What does it mean to be human? It means we take care of each other." --Pope Francis

--"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." --African proverb


  1. Heard your review of the Jewish Cardinal last week on the Catholic Channel. My husband and I found it on Netflix last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Superb acting by the main characters. Never heard the story before. Thanks for leading us to find it!