In her upcoming drama The Good Lie, Reese Witherspoon is fighting for justice — and maybe an Oscar nod as well. Witherspoon stars as Carrie Davis, a no-nonsense single woman who agrees to help four Sudanese refugees start over in the United States. At first, she’s reluctant, but as Davis learns the harrowing stories of the refugees, she becomes determined to change their lives. And in case you don’t immediately see what recent hit this story is meant to echo, the onscreen credit halfway through the new trailer should make it clear: “[from] the executive producer of The Blind Side.” (And how about this tagline: “She opened her home. They opened her eyes.”)
The film is based on the true story of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” tens of thousands of young men who fled to refugee camps during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005). More than 3,000 of these “lost boys” were given the opportunity to come to the United States in the early ‘00s, in what has been described as the largest resettlement of its kind in American history. After the events of September 11, the refugee program was put on hold for several months, as referenced in the Good Lie trailer.
For Reese Witherspoon, The Good Lie seems like an opportunity to add some gravity to her signature “plucky heroine” roles. It’s the same kind of brassy-unpolished-woman-saving-the-world role that led to Sandra Bullock’s triumphant comeback in The Blind Side, and Julia Roberts’ career-boosting turn in Erin Brockovich, both Oscar winners. (Note the Brockovich-like exchange when Witherspoon demands to see an immigration supervisor: “Thanks, cupcake.”) Witherspoon already has an Academy Award for Walk the Line (2006), but her awards-show presence has been sparse ever since. The savvy actress and producer is surely eyeing that statuette, and few things move the Academy like a pretty white lady fighting adversity.
To their credit, the producers of The Good Lie have hired actual Sudanese actors to play the film’s four refugees. These include Ger Duany, a former Lost Boy-turned-model, and hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal, who was a child soldier in the Sudan. Unfortunately, we learn little about their characters, Jeremiah and Paul, from the trailer — besides the fact that they’d never seen ice and think the United States is full of lions; the trailer is all about Reese Witherspoon’s savior of a hero. (Who, interestingly, did the inverse hair swap as Bullock: Bullock went from brunette to blonde for The Blind Side; here Witherspoon goes from blonde to brunette.) Hopefully the film allows more of a showcase for the Sudanese actors’ talents than this sneak peek.
The Good Lie comes to theaters on Oct. 3, two months before Witherspoon’s other big 2014 movie: the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s hiking memoir Wild.