Last week, along with the surprise series The OA, Netflix dropped a movie about Barack Obama, called Barry. I didn't rush to watch this, because I didn't expect it to be very good — it's possible recent shows like The Get Down and Vinyl have turned me off "Old New York" period productions, as they often come off as era caricatures. There was also the fear that a Netflix Original movie on such a wonderful and complex man would be reductive, to say the least.
It may be the timing of it all, and the strong desire to mentally escape the Trumpocalypse via focusing on the good people in the world, but I enjoyed it. It doesn't dive too deep, but it gives you a snapshot of this man—and the obstacles he overcame—during his time at Columbia University, starting in 1981. It's a movie that will show you how character gets built.
With that in mind, taking a 1 hour and 44 minute dive into the story of a good human, who has done good things, who is about to leave us (against his own will) in the hands of Evil, might make you cry, tremble, and scream. The entire time I watched Barry a second reel was playing in my head, a movie about Donald Trump during his formative years, showing how a man so opposite in nature of Barack Obama had come to be. If Obama was being tested, educated, and trying to understand the world and others while overcoming his own struggles, Trump was being manufactured in a privileged incubator of greed, narcissism, and grotesque materialism. While Obama was living in a rundown building on 109th Street, Trump was building his Dark Tower on 5th Avenue, and that distinction alone is a perfect visual contrast of the two men.
The movie, smoothly directed by Vikram Gandhi, focuses on Obama's life in 1980s New York, where he's attending Columbia University; it's there that we see him experience racism, contemplate who he is, chain smoke, attend parties, struggle with the death of his father in Kenya, bond with his mother, and date. Screenwriter Adam Mansbach's intention is simply to give you an idea of who he was before he became President, and it succeeds there; even if it never feels too profound, you'll feel connected. A huge part of why this film is watchable is 100% because of its star, Devon Terrell, who delivers the most incredible performance, even beyond his perfect vocal impression.
It's worth a watch, but again be warned: Barry felt like a Goodbye To All That, in which the All That is decency in the White House.