Before He Was President – Barry (2016)

Everybody loves an origin story.  So this is the story of a young Barack Obama (Devon Terrell) in his early years, going to Columbia University and struggling to find his place and purpose as a minority in an ocean of opposition.  Now the timing of this is no coincidence.  After eight year, Obama is finally stepping down as president, so it does make since for this movie to be released as a send off for him.  Agree with them or not, he has made a lot of changes for this country, but most people don’t know where the man came from; hell, it took the better part of his presidency to squash rumors that he was born in Kenya.  This movie does a fine job at telling you a story that you probably haven’t heard before: what Obama was doing before he got into politics.

2Although if you’re a staunch conservative, this movie isn’t going to do anything to change your mind about him.

Now I do really like the performance that Terrell gives in this.  You see a young Obama whenever he is onscreen which is the intention (obviously), but with the impression that he does here, he manages to pull it off without overdoing it.  What makes it even better is that they have an Arabic character played by Avi Nash who also does an impression of Obama multiple times within the movie.  It’s exaggerated and similar to something that you would see a stand up comic work with on stage, and it puts it in perspective on how easy it would be to cross the line into the realm of over the top.  When I say it is an origin story, it really is just that.  This movie isn’t about big speeches or even politics, you get to see him do normal everyday things, like play some basketball, drink a beer, make a pass on a girl, or heaven forbid even be around some rolled marijuana.  It’s cool to see a person that is so regal today just getting by and doing the mundane, but that’s not entirely what this movie is about.  This movie is also about how much this man had to let roll off his back to get to the place he wanted to get to from an education standpoint.  This is the early 80’s we are talking about here, and the ratio of whites to blacks at this University is a tilt on the Caucasian side.  Even if you don’t agree with him politically, as a president, he never lashes back, even when the insults reach their ugliest and foulest, and that is the same person that is captured in this story.

1And you know that the fact that he was in a bi-racial relationship only added to the scrutiny he faced.

I know I’ve been singing this movie’s praises, but it’s not a perfect film.  There is a lack of conflict in that you already know how this story plays out, so you’re never really at any point worried about anything being jeopardy.  In addition to that, I don’t think that this movie has a ton to say, or even has all that much of a point, really.  It’s like they got a man who did a very good impression and looked like a young Obama and decided to green light it before the script was even completed.  It’s really all about the shaping of the man before he became president, and it’s very watchable, but it’s hard to give an enthusiastic recommendation to anybody out there that doesn’t happen to already have a giant amount of adoration for our 44th president of the United States.

Barry (2016) ***

– Critic for Hire


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