Barry, directed by Vikram Gandhi, explores Barack Obama’s early years at Columbia University in good ‘ole New York City during the 80s.
Barry (Devon Terrell) starts off his movie to the city uneasily. He gets off on the wrong stop on the subway, he’s kicked off campus because he didn’t have an I.D., and on his first night he couldn’t get into the apartment he was renting with a friend, so he ends up sleeping in the streets. What a great start, right?
But aside from nuance shenanigans college students get into, the film delves swiftly into the bigger issues that plague the protagonist.
Here is a young, brilliant man struggling with his identity. Not just racially, but also socially and internally.
He has a strained relationship with a father he never really knew, only knew of. His mom, Ann (Ashley Judd) tries to justify his father’s actions, but he’s having none of it. He struggles to write a letter back to his father, and when he does manage to get it done, he never has the opportunity to send it because—spoiler—his dad dies before he gets a chance to try to get to know him.
The young Obama’s full name is never mentioned throughout the whole in the film–first name aside in the final moments–but Terrell subtly provides wisps of the future leader Barry will become in real life.
However, possibly the saddest theme in this film is Barry’s search for a sense of belonging.
Barry’s been to many places in his life–Hawaii, California, Indonesia, and now New York. Throughout the film he continuously drops dialogue that he doesn’t know what his scene is, he’s still trying to figure out his surroundings, and most notably the “I fit in nowhere” line.
But the one that resonates the most with the film’s scheme is in the final scene when Barry is playing basketball with a kid in Harlem. The kid asks him where’s he’s from.
Barry replies, “I’m from a lot of places, but I live here now.”
And somehow, that last line serves as the gold mine of a pre-presidential Barack Obama film. Nowhere in this movie does the script outwardly nod to Obama’s future as the 44th President of the United States.
What the script manages to do is expose the raw human being behind the future composed and impassioned speaker, instead drawing up a picture of an uncertain young adult, but one with promise. The film pulls from the perceptiveness Barry has, that charisma, and the intelligence.
You don’t have to be an Obama supporter to enjoy this film—like so many other countless films, the ‘Barry’ character serves as a symbol to others who are at odds with their identities.
It isn’t about who your parents were. It isn’t about where you were from. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, both, or some other race or ethnicity. It’s about the person you could be—who you are deep within. All other classifications are just divisions for categorizing. It should not designate your endgame.
Biopics on people still alive and kicking can be tricky. On one hand, the producers and writers want to pay homage to a certain person, but on another, they want to make a film that will resonate and keep viewers engaged.
Yet Netflix has once again added a moving and thought-provoking piece to its carousel of films.