Barry is a Netflix original movie directed by Vikram Gandhi and stars Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split), Avi Nash, Jason Mitchell, Linus Roache (Batman Begins, Vikings), and Ashley Judd (Divergent, Heat, etc).
This film is Gandhi’s directorial debut and Terrell’s acting debut. Barry (played by Terrell) depicts the young adult life of the 44th President of the Unites States, Barack Hussein Obama II. The film begins with Barry arriving in New York City to attend Columbia University, New York in 1981. There he is split between academic life and that of the impoverished black-community. The main focus of the film is the identity struggle Barry has and how the absence of his father has shaped (or hasn’t shaped) his view of himself. Along with his identity crisis he dates a white woman named Charlotte. His mother (played by Judd) makes a small appearance to give him advice in times of trouble. The film mostly focuses on the beginning of his journey to understanding his identity as half-white, half-black, being from all parts of the globe, and whether he views himself as African or ultimately as an American.
Regardless of political views, Obama has been a controversial President due to his political views and actions. One has to ask why is this film being put out during the last couple months of his lame-duck Presidency?
Any form of media about a political or famous figure is propaganda which is not necessarily a bad things as I feel many people may believe. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, propaganda is, “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” Barry is propaganda in favor of Obama.
As far as my research tells me never has a movie (not a documentary) been made about a President while he is alive, let alone while still in office. There have been movies that discuss aspects of a Presidency while the President is still alive but haven’t been put out during the actual Presidency. For instance, All the Presidents Men (1976) is about Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal but by ’76 Nixon was out of office yet still alive. JFK, Lincoln, Nixon, the list goes on, have all been made after the President is out of office or his death.
Barry is actually not the first movie made about Obama; it is the second. Earlier this year a movie called Southside With You came out about the beginning of Michelle and Obama’s relationship. I can’t speak to the quality of that movie because I haven’t seen it, but I know the film is blatant propaganda and mostly flat out lies to glamorize their unhealthy relationship.
As for the validity of Barry I can’t say. Nothing controversial happens that Obama hasn’t already admitted and I don’t know anything about his relationship with Charlotte. Michelle isn’t in this movie and the audience knows Obama does not end up with Charlotte. I tried to leave all my political bias at the door to pretend I knew nothing about the man, though that can’t completely work (more on that later). But let’s discuss what is vital to this movie.
The acting is quite well done. I had no issues with the performances save for one. This being Terrell’s first time acting is quite impressive. I can see him as a young Obama and his voice impersonation is uncanny. He is the perfect choice to portray a younger version of our President.
Anya Taylor-Joy is serviceable along with everyone else. No one is going to win any Oscars but the performances are believable and realistic.
My only gripe with the performances are with Ashley Judd. She is the most seasoned actor in the movie but she looks like she is on the verge of happy tears all the time. All I could think about with her performance is she is enthralled to be in a movie about President Obama and she’s bursting with joy and just can’t contain it.
This movie is aesthetically pleasing. It is well shot and well lit. It has an indie film vibe and look to it. It features slow montages of Obama doing ‘Rocky’ runs, smoking a joint in bed, and dancing at night clubs all to the tune of hypnotic, melodic music.
As previously mentioned this is about the story of young Obama’s identity crisis. He’s constantly telling people he’s from Hawaii, Africa, Indonesia, and other parts of the globe. He must deal with having a white girlfriend and how that portrays him in the eyes of the black people around him. He’s the only black man in four out of his five classes. Obama is racially profiled quite often and given the nickname ‘Invisible’ since he is constantly reading Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man about a young black man trying to find his identity and place in this world. The symbolism between Ellison’s book and the main protagonist isn’t subtle. When I saw the shot of the book on his kitchen table I thought it was a nice nod, but the book and topic is a central concept that is brought up every fifteen minutes making the symbolism heavy handed. Obama’s white friend reminds him, he [Obama] is also half-white therefore he can fit in anywhere; Obama responds “I fit in no where.” So we see Obama trying different ‘scenes’ to see where he fits in. He goes from parties in the ghettos of Harlem to the rich ‘white’ country clubs to show the contrast and struggle between the black part of him and the white part.
Sometimes I forgot I was watching a movie that takes place in 1981 and not 1961. I say this because of how race and even style is depicted seems more reminiscent of the 60’s than the 80’s. In class Obama brings up slavery. I believe the movie is making the point that the after effects are still being felt by black people over 100 years after it ended. Granted, segregation ended a little over a decade before this movie takes place so those remnants are felt by Obama. A classmate later tells him [about slavery], “It’s 1981 get over it already.” Obama’s wife, Michelle, brought up slavery at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, so clearly the Obama’s are not over it and clearly the movie is reminding us the ‘struggles’ Obama, as a black man, had to overcome.
Ultimately, Obama leaves the ‘white’ country club lifestyle and ends up with his identity crisis resolved by playing basketball on the streets with a young black boy and saying “I’m from a lot of places…but I live here now.” This seems odd in a way, because Obama ends up going into the ‘celebrity’ spotlight, but I believe the movie saying Obama will still always be one of the people.
Obama’s story arc is neither satisfying nor exciting… in fact it’s rather bland.
Rating & Recommendation~
Only once is the name Barack heard and never is the name Obama heard. Titling the movie Barry gives Obama a more friendly, personal connection to the audience; it also provides the movie with a youthful spirit right off the bat.
Barry has a larger than life presence but down to earth persona.”
One can’t help but feel this movie is trying to make Obama out to be a legendary figure. According to the movie this is the little known origin of America’s first black President. The movie looks good and has well-done performances but that’s about it.
I kept checking the time to see how much I had left because I desperately wanted to shut this movie off due to how boring it is. There is absolutely nothing special shown about Obama’s young adult life as shown in this movie. Essentially this is about a young man with father issues and identity issues. Obama’s character arc is incredibly unsatisfying and the resolution to his issues is rushed because the audience doesn’t feel or even see his transition but rather the runtime calls for it to be wrapped up.
Clearly the director is putting out a propaganda piece during Obama’s last few months as President to hopefully make everyone forget how terrible of a President he has been and remember how much he struggled to get where he is today and remember ultimately he’s a well-read, smart, poetic, lovable, down-to-earth guy who has a mythical presence about him: born of an African father, Kansan mother, raised in Hawaii, studied Islam in Indonesia, studied ‘Christianity’ in American, studied and taught at Harvard, became a Senator, and then America’s first black President. He has a colorful almost mythical past but this film covers little to none of it and only focuses on a small unremarkable section. He encounters very minimal racial discrimination and has an incredibly easy time fitting in in Harlem and at the country club. His girlfriend, Charlotte, puts it perfectly when she says, “You know what your problem is Barry? You think that this is all about you.” Barry has a smooth, magnetic facade but I’m not buying it.
Barry is a waste of time even for die-hard Obama fans because the story/character arc is so shallow people will be hitting their remotes to back out of a movie that reveals no insights and teaches no lessons.
Honestly I wasn’t expecting much but tried to put all preconceived notions aside and I was given a movie that is lackluster. The creative team behind Barry is hoping to give you a meatless snippet of the young adult Barack Obama in the hopes young people of today will sympathize with his plight, forget his massive shortcomings, and simply remember ‘Barry’, the mythical, down-to-earth man behind the “legendary” Barack Hussein Obama II.
I am giving Barry 4 stars out of 10 making this a Solid Not Recommend.