When I reviewed the campaign for Barry I thought the movie was being sold less as a fictionalized story of a young Barack Obama and his time at Columbia University in the early 1980s as it was about a young man’s search for identity. That feeling was pretty accurate.
The story follows a young Obama, going by Barry at the time (something that’s meant to emphasize how he hasn’t come into his own just yet), as he enters Columbia. But the movie is less about the formal education of the future President as it is about him figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Whether it’s playing basketball, being part of the Black Student Union, spending time with his girlfriend or grappling with his relationship with his distant (physically and emotionally) father, every part of the story has him wondering how he fits in. This isn’t just about him being half white/half black, it’s about his personality in general. He doesn’t feel at home anywhere and in most any situation, be it a local party, in the classroom or walking among street vendors. It’s only at the end of the movie does he take a definitive action toward defining his own future and identity.
Devon Terrell stars as the young Obama and is solid in the role, never really diving too deeply into an impression of the real life man, giving the audience enough to be reminded that he is pacing his performance on Obama’s style and mannerisms, but as we’re supposed to be watching a young version of the guy that is wisely only taken so far. If there’s a problem with the movie it’s that he’s essentially asked to play the same scene repeatedly, put into a situation that he’s not entirely comfortable in and then feeling awkward while questioning his identity. That is the theme of the story but it’s a note that’s hit repeatedly, with growth only coming toward the end as a series of circumstances collide to force a decision of some sort.
The campaign, particularly the trailer since it was the main element of the marketing, sold the movie pretty accurately, conveying the themes of the story clearly and telling the audience, overtly at times, that we were watching a work in progress. Most all of the shots in the trailer convey the idea that he’s working out his identity and what he stands for, thrown into one situation after another that has him asking more questions than finding more answers.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Netflix now and is recommended.