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Movie Review: Barry

Witness the early struggles of a great leader with Barry. Image used from tiff.com

As December comes closer to its end, so does the presidency of Barack Obama. Though too kind and trustworthy for his own good, he was still one of finest presidents we ever had.  He aimed to do everything he could to help his country, its citizens – even against the unmovable and cruel GOP and the multitudes who dared try to undermine him. Recently Netflix released an original film about the early college life of President Obama and as we say out heart heavy goodbyes to the Commander in Chief, we should also take a look at who he was before he became president.

 

The story for Barry is one I was not expecting. I was expecting a film that traversed the college life of Obama, one that would show the events that shaped his life and inspired him to one day become president. Instead the story takes a completely different route. Instead it focuses just on a few months and politics has nothing to do with anything, in fact in one scene Obama states that politics is just nonsense. The plot story and conflict has to do with Obama being biracial and how he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He faces discrimination and ignorance for being an African American through brief conflicts with a police officer because of the color of his skin to dealing with the racial ignorance of a white class mate and yet he doesn’t fit in with the African American community. Likewise his mannerisms as seen white as pointed out by his friend Saleem yet he always finds himself sticking out when at parties and ceremonies where the group is predominately white. This idea is driven home by Obama reading the Ralph Ellison novel Invisible Man and such as the novel Obama faces the same conflicts and is given a nickname based on the book by a friend of his. The story is interesting as it makes Obama seem not like a presidential type of person but rather as an every day man and his conflicts are ones anyone can relate to as it is immensely difficult to find your place in the world when it seems like you don’t belong anywhere. However, as interesting as the story is I felt underwhelmed by it. I don’t know it just feel as grand or as engaging as it should have been and only left me wanting more by the time it came to a close. Still for what it’s worth it is an interesting angle to take on Obama.

 

Characters for Barry are pretty good

 

Throughout the entire film when it came to Obama I was reminded of a video that Chris Rock did back during the 2012 Presidential Election where his argument to white voters to vote for Obama was that he was actually more white than Mitt Romney. I was reminded of this video because of Obama preference to being called Barry though instead of remembering the video with humor It had served to drive the conflict of the character home. Though is a sympathy and a humanity to the film’s take on Obama through his want of fitting in but feeling as if he belongs nowhere.

 

Saleem, Obama’s friend, is a character who exists to be a comedic foil to Obama’s more serious outlook. Saleem manages to lighten up almost any scene he is in and despite his vulgar juxtaposition to Obama he is still quite charming.

 

Charlotte is Obama’s girlfriend, one that from what I’ve read never existed and only made for this film. is a difficult character to pin down. During the third act Obama’s conflict grows the more he is with Charlotte and when it comes to her I don’t know if she is trying to be a progressive person and is loving towards Obama or if her progressive attitude is just some facade and Obama is merely some kind of token to her. It does seem like an “open to interpretation” situation but even then I just don’t know.

 

Acting for Barry is well done

 

Devon Terrell does very well as Obama. Terrell is very convincing in the role as manages to get Obama’s speech pattern down almost perfectly right down to his audible pauses. Terrell’s performance is very engaging and is one of the true highlights of the film as he manages to give a commanding performance throughout.

 

Avi Nash is a true scene stealer as Saleem. He’s very energetic and nails his comedic notes wonderfully, one thing that made me laugh the hardest was when he was imitating Obama because Nash actually had a more believable impression of the president then Terrell did.

 

Anya Taylor Joy does well as Charlotte. It’s a decent performance and she does work well with Terrell but I couldn’t help but feel her performance wasn’t as remarkable as the one she gave earlier this year with The Witch.

 

Final Thoughts: It may not have been as grand as I wanted it to be but overall Barry is a fine film. It takes a very interesting angle on the life of Obama and the idea of trying to fit is in relatable and humanizes him. The characters are pretty good and the acting is done very well, it just left me wanting more by the end. In the years to come there will be more films about Barack Obama and those will certainly be better but still Barry is a good start and fine send off to our president.

 

Verdict: 3/5

 

About the Author

Good day to you, my name is Jonathan Gonzalez. For years I’ve loved movies and have been reviewing them for years, ever since I first saw Roger Ebert on Ebert and Roeper during my freshman year of high school for the first time. I am a graduate of Mercy College with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and I have Asperger’s Syndrome, something I am truly proud of.

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