After the Campaign: Barry

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.

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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.

MMM Recap: Week of 12/16/16 New Releases

Collateral Beauty

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The strongest card the studio has to play is the big emotions that are part of the story. So it hits that beat as forcefully and repeatedly as it can, showing Smith breaking down and having his conversations with death and everything else as a way to sell the movie as a big-budget tearjerker. In fact that’s the primary value proposition on display here, that the audience should come in and have a good cry with the characters who are all feeling everything so hard they can’t keep their emotions in for even a minute.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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What’s notable about the campaign is that it started off with a very different tone than it ended up with. That first teaser trailer was all about setting this up as Jyn Erso’s story and followed her arc from recruitment to infiltration and that’s where the focus of the rest of the campaign at the outset was. But overtime it became more and more about the team as a whole, starting to sell it as a wary movie in the Star Wars Universe and less as something specifically about Erso. Whether that’s because they wanted to broaden the scope to be more inclusive of the whole story or because of concerns among some that a female-centric Star Wars story wouldn’t sell as well remains unclear. While Jyn was never relegated to the background there’s certainly a first-half/second-half difference on display. Even her role in the campaign changed, from an outsider to the leader who delivers inspiring speeches and motivates the troops.

Barry

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The story that’s on display here is one that would likely be compelling regardless of the actual subject matter. Meaning it’s an interesting story of race, identity and worldly expectations that works even if it’s not about Obama. His presence just adds a layer of complexity to what we’re watching that brings with it some real world significance as we see a future president’s formative years.

Movie Marketing Madness: Barry

barry-posterFor the second time this year we’re diving into the early life of President Barack Obama. Where the earlier Southside With You was focused on one day, the day he met his future wife Michelle, the new movie Barry goes even earlier than that. Now we’re looking at his days as a college student at Columbia University, days when he was still on his own and trying to figure out who he was and who he was going to be.

That’s the core of the movie’s story, identity. A young Barry (Devon Terrell) is pulled in several different directions by various factors around and within him and he’s trying to either reconcile them or find one that feels right for him. Again, we know how this story ends but the movie is about the journey we may not be as familiar with, the days before he was Senator or President.

The Posters

The one-sheet for the movie is pretty simple, just showing Terrell as Barry staring off-camera contemplatively, as if deep in thought. We get a short plot synopsis, with text stating “Before he was Barack, he was…” and then the title. It’s tagged as “A Netflix Original Film” and that’s about it.

The Trailers

There’s not too much going on in the first teaser. Mostly it features Obama walking into rooms, around parks and elsewhere, with the camera behind him showing the back of his head. Title cards pop up telling us this is before he inspired change and other accomplishments.

It’s a decent trailer, setting up that this is kind of an origin story that has a fairly broad focus. Love the music, mostly.

The full trailer offers more insights into the story. The Obama that’s on display here is one that’s very much searching for his identity. He’s not sure who he is or what he’s supposed to be doing. We see him dating a woman who’s not Michelle, which helps establish the time period, going to college classes and so on, all while questioning his role in the world. We see a few moments that will shape his perspective, from moments of wondering who he is with friends to a confrontation with a security guard that’s clearly because he’s black.

It’s pretty powerful, establishing that this is a story about identity and one’s place in the world. Like Southside With Me earlier this year, we know how this story ends but the promise here is that we get to see some foundational moments in the life of a future President. There’s a relentless focus on that “who am I?” theme that is meant to provide tension with the knowledge we already have, but the trailer still works for the most part.

Online and Social

There’s not much in the way of an online presence for the movie, which isn’t surprising for Netflix releases. There’s a page on the site for Black Bear Pictures, the production company that made it and some support was also provided on the Black Bear social channels. Netflix did likewise, though not to the extent it’s been promoting Fuller House and other shows it’s produced. There’s a lingering Twitter account specifically for the movie but it hasn’t been updated since September, with an update about Netflix buying it out of TIFF, so it presumably was run by Black Bear who was then told to let it wither.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing much here that I’ve come across.

Media and Publicity

While at the Toronto International Film Festival where the movie debuted, director Vikram Ghandi talked about being the second movie about a young up-and-coming Obama to get press this year and more. The movie was picked up by Netflix pretty quickly out of the festival.

Overall

There’s no getting around the fact that Barry is working at a disadvantage, that of being the second “Young Obama” movie to come out inside of a calendar year. But it doesn’t seem to suffer disproportionately from that, instead presenting a movie that should be of additional interest to those who saw – or plan to see – Southside With You.

The story that’s on display here is one that would likely be compelling regardless of the actual subject matter. Meaning it’s an interesting story of race, identity and worldly expectations that works even if it’s not about Obama. His presence just adds a layer of complexity to what we’re watching that brings with it some real world significance as we see a future president’s formative years.

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