Film Review: Netflix’s Obama biopic Barry (MA15+) (USA, 2016) is at once thoughtful, intelligent and entertaining

The kind of film that benefits from its titular character being portrayed as less of an impression and more as a fully realised character, Barry is at once thoughtful, intelligent and particularly entertaining.

Though he is introduced to us as Barry, we’re all aware of the Barack Obama he ultimately will become (so to speak), and whilst it has a slew of biopic formalities, Barry is very much operating on its own terms, able to break free from any heavy-handed politics one might assume the film will adhere to.  In the lead role Australian-American talent Devon Terrell is nothing short of spectacular, and the subtlety in matching Obama’s own demeanour and vocals feels remarkably organic as opposed to a caricature-inspired performance.

Those hoping for some sort of insight as to what the nation’s first African-American president did at his time in university may be disappointed with the route Barry opts to take, instead director Vikram Gandhi focuses on the trials of race and identity as it’s evident at how much of an outcast Barry is from the offset of the film; whether it be the Harlem party scene, playing basketball with fellow coloured students, or his own fraternity, Barry ceases to find a niche he feels accepted.

Given that Gandhi’s film, working off a script from Adam Mansbach, doesn’t have the most exciting of plots, it’s a testament to all involved that we stay as invested as we do.  This is simply a film that tells a moment in time and addresses some serious racial issues along the course without batting its audience over the head with a “white people don’t understand” message.

In addition to Terrell’s star-making performance, Barry allows a neat showcase from Anya Taylor-Joy (fresh off her standout turn in The Witch) as his oft-oblivious girlfriend, Ashley Judd as his mother, and Straight Outta Compton‘s Jason Mitchell as a fellow student raised in the projects.

Had Barry not been a film about Obama (and it should be noted that that name is never uttered) it would still stand as an immensely engaging drama as Mansbach’s script successfully expands its characters beyond any simplicities.  But it is about Obama, and with that Barry serves as a more noteworthy production.  Regardless of your personal opinions on the man himself, there’s no denying that his presidency is an immense achievement in history, and this film stands as both a love letter to the man himself and an example of the progression that has both been achieved and is still yet to come.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Barry is available to stream on Netflix now.

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Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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