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Cinderella Dazzled by Gala Premiere of “The Good Lie”

Reese Witherspoon

"Reese Witherspoon Cannes 2012" by Georges Biard - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Theresa Notare, Ph.D. - published on 09/20/14

Thankfully, the Film and Dinner Made Up for the Awkwardness of "Office Casual" Clothes

Occasionally I get free invites to previews of “faith-based movies” because my work is “faith-based.” While one can applaud the motives and efforts of the folks producing these films, one has to admit that some fall flat due to low production budgets, preachy scripts and unknown actors (with good reason to be unknown). So when the invitation rolled in to see “The Good Lie,” debuting in theaters October 3, my expectations were low, despite the star power of Reese Witherspoon.

“The Good Lie” tells the fictionalized story of 3 orphaned siblings among the 26,000 “Lost Boys” who were forced to flee South Sudan when civil war broke out in the early 1980s. Together they survived a walk of over 1,000 miles through three African countries and 13 years of hardship in and out of a refugee camp before being among the lucky 2,400 or so who were allowed to resettle in the United States. Witherspoon is the tough-talking career counselor tasked with finding work for the boys in Kansas City, where they eventually landed. A promising story, right?  

Certainly worth popping over to after work. It was about an hour into the pre-movie cocktails when little Miss Clueless here realized that the showing was not your typical faith-based movie deal of popcorn and a show. I think what gave it away was the scores of designer shoes on the very narrow feet of very thin women with straight glossy hair, meticulous pedicures and manicures, strong but elegant perfume and way-pricey designer (or designer-look) dresses. Needless to say, coming from work, I was underdressed, to put it charitably. Even the servers looked spiffier than I was feeling. So, yeah, it eventually dawned on me that this was the Washington, DC world premiere of “The Good Lie.”

I was trying to be inconspicuous amongst the clutch of my colleagues who were busy pointing out all the celebs from Capitol Hill and Hollywood when it occurred to me that the registration staff hadn’t given me an assigned seat in the movie theater. As friends went off in search of seat assignments or Reese, I was left, exposed in my work dress, sweater and sensible heels in a sea of high-fashion models and metrosexual men, every one of them a good 6 feet tall.

At last we made it into the movie theatre where free snacks and drinks greeted us (popcorn, Junior Mints, etc.), as if any of those skinny women would indulge. I was beginning to feel relieved that my attire would stop being a source of embarrassment when the lights dimmed. My friends had assigned seats that were perfect—mid-way up the theatre and in the first row of the tier, with lots of legroom. I (playing the part of the scullery maid that evening), had a ticket for a folding chair, way off to the left side of the theatre with a bad view of the screen.

So, in a typically New Jersey-Italian-American style, as soon as the crowd calmed down and just as the lights were beginning to lower, I dragged my chair to an exit sign (just behind a garbage can), and thought I’d stay there for the duration as the view was better. But that’s when I spotted an open seat next to an older gentleman in the tier below my friends. So, I energetically walked to the open seat and tapped the older gentleman’s shoulder to ask if the seat were taken. The really friendly fellow immediately shot out his hand to shake mine (why, I couldn’t imagine), as I inquired about the seat. Then a voice in the attic of my mind said “You know this man.” It was Senator John McCain. Not missing a beat, I exclaimed, “Oh, HELLO, it’s YOU” with a big smile on my face, and pleaded again for the seat. (You really can’t take the Jersey out of a girl!). He apologized, saying that it was taken and that’s as close as I got that night to “celebrity.”  But I did find an empty spot a few rows in front of him, thanks to the intercession of the Angels of Good-Theater-Seats (another Jersey thing). Later, my friends recounted that they were dying with laughter as my awkward faux pas with Senator McCain unfolded before their eyes. I’m glad someone enjoyed the spectacle.

The dinner after the showing was the epitome of elegance—each table set with a fine textured cloth, fresh large white roses in a low round bowl and tall glass pillar of candles in the center. The food was fabulous: a gourmet salad, followed by filet mignon topped with lobster and sides of mashed potatoes and asparagus (the petite ones tied with a grassy string). Two desserts were offered. The first, a to-die-for vanilla cake covered in hazelnut chocolate. Really, given my allergy to hazelnuts, I could have to-died-for the cake, but luckily identified the dangerous-but-yummy flavor after just two bites and grabbed an antihistamine. The other dessert was an apple-cranberry cobbler with a touch of vanilla ice cream. Needless to say, wine flowed all evening. After the amazing meal there were more speeches and music. The whole Cinderella experience was lovely, apart from not having a decent gown to wear.   

Oh, yes, about the movie.

The conflict and persecution in South Sudan that drove the Lost Boys from their families and homeland is continuing. You can read a little more about it here. The producers were so moved by their plight that they started the Lost Boys Foundation, which is devoted to rescuing refugees, especially orphaned children, living in Kenyan refugee camps.

The first part of the movie shows the children in their home village and the brutality of the soldiers who hunted them. It is a heartbreaking yet poetic representation of terror and injustice and of the courage and strong bond among the children who fled their homes, hiding from soldiers throughout their journey, eventually making their way to Kenya. Once in the refugee camp they adjust to the life there and the story fast forwards 13 years to the moment they learn that they can go to America (through an immigration lottery). From that point on, we are treated to a lighter tale as they adapt to the strange life and culture of the U.S.

The one somber note throughout this period is that the boys were separated from their sister once they all got to JFK Airport. She was sent on to Boston because no family in Kansas City offered to take her. The story follows the boys in Kansas City, revealing their struggles, humor, love and woundedness. Another of their wounds is from the loss of their elder brother, Theo. In any case, without giving away the ending, things turn out well and the audience is left with a conviction to help the children and families who continue to be torn apart through man’s inhumanity to man. The final credits suggest “how to get involved” through the Foundation

Overall the acting is strong, and the Sudanese “boys” were especially compelling. The terror and grief experienced by the boys in their escape is edge-of-your-seat palpable, even though you know in the back of your mind that the brothers at least will survive, despite having lost parents, other siblings and everything they ever knew. Once the now grown refugees are in the U.S., the movie weakens as their profound losses and scars are sugar-coated to make room for comic relief. Their three huge problems—one brother’s despair and drug use, their sister being far away in Boston, and the apparent loss of their eldest brother—are all too-easily and swiftly resolved, but the happy ending may have been necessary for some theater-goers to counter the early heartbreak and horror. It’s too bad that the script didn’t stay strong to better represent the plight and redemption of the characters. Still, the optimism and good will of all characters, coming together to ensure justice and the reunion of the refugee family, felt uplifting rather than phony. And it left me with a desire to help.

Go see it, but don’t bring kids under 13, please.

Theresa Notare, PhD writes from Washington, DC.

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