Monday, December 19, 2016

Barry Netflix Movie Review

Barry (2016)
Watch Barry on Netflix
Written by: Adam Mansbach
Directed by: Vikram Gandhi
Starring: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell, Ellar Coltrane, Jenna Elfman, Ashley Judd
Rated: TV-MA

In the fall of 1981, a young Barack Obama, known to his friends as Barry, begins his junior year at Columbia University. This fact based film explores race, culture, and identity.

While this focuses on who Barack Obama was in college, this movie never steps out of his shadow. Change the main character to just a random kid in the 80s and this loses what little power and intrigue it has.
It introduces the concepts of what could potentially shape this future president, but it never pulls them together. It expects the viewer to do all of the work in assembling the narrative from the 80s to the 2010s. Each scene only reinforces that he feels like he doesn't fit in.
Skip it.

This is a one note drum. Barry just doesn't fit in; not in the Columbia classroom and not on the Harlem basketball courts. He wrestles with how people see him and how he sees himself. He's one of the few black students at the school, and he's too college for Harlem's residents. Having a white girlfriend makes him self conscious in all circles.

Devon Terrell does a great job of capturing Obama's speech pattern and tone. He really carries the movie. It takes the first step of presenting a young man critical of the system and trying to find his way, but this never takes the next logical step. It sets a premise and ends there. The trailer presented this as capturing the key moments that made him who he is, but that doesn't really happen unless the moments are so low key they blend in with everything else and are indistinguishable. There are no events in this movie you can point to and surmise this is why the President believes this today. This movie could be about any black man attending Columbia in the '80s. It seems like it portrays Obama for name recognition alone without a direct link. At the least this could have had him doing something in the final scene, joining a political club or leading a protest. We need to see a response, and we don't.

In one of the very first scenes, campus security asks him to get off of campus since he doesn't have an ID. The implication is clear with security ignoring the white students milling around. This situation is revisited later, with Barry asking the question the scene implies.
This movie continually hammers the fact that he doesn't fit in. One of his friends tells him that since his parents were black and white he can fit in anywhere, but it's clear with the look that crosses his face he doesn't buy that. His experiences haven't proved that. On the basketball courts, the streets, in the projects, and in the clubs, he's trying to find his scene. We know what that becomes, but the movie needs to key in on that. It needs to give us an indication.

The subject matter becomes bigger because this is a known figure. Would this movie matter if it wasn't about the President? This is the only thing that sets it apart. It tries to weave in a narrative about his father, but that never takes off. Ashley Judd plays his mother. As Barry's girlfriend states, she's really cool.

I can't verify the accuracy of this movie, though his girlfriend in this movie was a combination of various women he dated. It's intriguing to see Obama's college years, but this is only half of a movie. It ends with an ellipsis, telling us you know the rest. We get the input, but there's no output, no reaction or indication. It doesn't have to be as cheesy as Barry telling one of his friends, "I'm going to be president." but have him decide to join a club or desire to make a difference.

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